Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Billy Elliot (2000)

True men dance. So take that, daddy!

Young, British boy Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) wants to be a dancer. Although he goes to the local gym for prepaid boxing-lessons, he has no passion behind hitting people just for the heck of it. Instead, he prefers to learn a thing or two about swiveling his hips, jumping up and down, clapping his hands, and moving around rooms as if he was the second-coming of Fred Astaire. However, due to the fact that he lives in a very conservative British coal mining town and also because he lives with his relatively masculine father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven), Billy’s not allowed to really tell anybody about his life long dream. That’s why he and the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), decide that it’s best that they keep it their little secret; one that may or may not get out and when it does, will affect everyone. Most importantly, Billy himself who is trying his hardest to be the best dancer he can be and get accepted into a very high-class, prestigious dance academy.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Us men feel your pain, bud.

Like most inspirational tales, Billy Elliot follows a familiar pattern. Protagonist has talent, protagonist faces adversity from someone or something surrounding them, protagonist trains harder and harder (of course, cue the montage), and eventually, it all leads up to the protagonist having to prove themselves in an epic climax that can only be a single event. You see this with just about every sports movie; basketball, football, soccer, baseball, tennis, cross country, track-and-field, fencing, bad-mitten, and etc.

And now, you can add dancing to the list, all because of Billy Elliot.

Because, like I said, Billy Elliot is a lot like these other movies in that it follows the same sort of line and hardly diverts away from it. While some of you may be utterly displeased with the fact that I may have given something away about the movie, I assure you that I have not. Because obviously, all I did was layout where the movie goes, not where it ends up, nor how it gets there. And believe it or not, those later aspects matter most and they’re what help Billy Elliot be something a bit more than just a traditional tale of a boy conquering his fears and living out his dreams.

For one, it’s a movie that has a heart, something I’m not sure many of Stephen Daldry’s other movies have been known to have. But unsurprisingly, there’s something about Billy and those around him that keep this movie surprisingly sweet, when it could have easily gone sour. A solid example of this is when one of Billy’s friends turns out to be gay and harmlessly kisses him on the cheek. Rather than Billy criticizing him for it, Billy instead embraces this fact about his buddy, even if he has to turn down the offer because, well, he’s not gay. He may enjoy dancing quite a lot, but that doesn’t make him gay, nor does it make him any less of a man than those that surround him.

While I’m not particularly sure that a kid as young as the one portrayed by Billy’s friend would actually be so sure and out with himself as he is here, the movie still drives home the point that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, or what social/ethnic background you come from – if there is something you love to do, then do it, dammit! Billy is constantly being bombarded by the masculine men that live in his home and because of the society they’re living in, it’s considered not “right” for him to be out on a stage, prancing around in tight-clothing and shaking his rump like no tomorrow. There’s something wrong with this, we understand, within the movie, but it also carries a universal theme that no matter how many years we think we advance, there’s still that idea that men, aren’t men, unless they’re eating, killing, or screwing something.

Sometimes, men can dance and be masculine. Think of all those ladies’ tushes they touch while they’re on the stage.

I guess she's Ginger Rodgers, too.

I guess she’s Ginger Rodgers, too.

But anyway, I realize that I’m not doing this movie any favors by making it sound as preachy and as annoying as possible, but I can assure you, it’s very far from. Daldry keeps the message only alive through the song and dance numbers, most of which, are as joyful and exciting as they should be. Though there’s maybe one or two more montages than there should be (we get it, he likes to dance to glam-rock!), the movie still moves at a fine pace to where it feels like we understand what it is about dancing that Billy loves, while also wanting to see him succeed at his dream of becoming a respectable dancer. However, that word “respectable” has many meanings and it’s engaging to watch as he constantly has to battle with each and everyone, trying to figure out just who the hell he actually is in the process.

And as Billy, Jamie Bell does a fine job in a very young role of his. Obviously, this is the one that put him on the map and has led to a pretty respectable career thus far, but it’s better if you don’t think about it as a time capsule performance, and more as one that shows how lucky Daldry was to get him when he did. Because honestly, getting a kid actor who can, well, act and do so in a way that’s not obvious or cloying, is especially impressive. Not to mention the fact that, from what the movie seems to show, Bell did a lot of his own dancing and it impresses me all the more.

Why Bell doesn’t dance more in movies nowadays is beyond me, but hey, maybe in the next Fantastic Four movie, eh?

But the one who steals the show is Julie Walters, playing Billy’s foul-mouthed, but fun teacher/inspirational-figure. Walters is hilarious in this role and shows that even while she may have a funny quip to end every sentence on, she still does have a heart, a soul, and genuinely care about what happens to Billy and his career with dancing. Though the movie drives home the point that Billy is looking for a mother-figure in his life to reach out to, it doesn’t over-do its hand and allows for the scenes these two have together to have a quiet bit of resonance in them. That Billy wants somebody to love, adore and teach him is sweet, but the fact that a woman who seems as uninspired as Mrs. Wilkinson is actually that person and wants to continue to be that person, makes it all the more sweeter.

Okay, yeah. This thing’s pretty corny.

Consensus: Despite a familiar layout, Billy Elliot still features another heart, humor and fine performances to make it worth a watch, especially since it’s Stephen Daldry’s most pleasant movie to-date.

8 / 10

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Oh boy-o! Where has the time gone!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

99 Homes (2015)

Don’t ever trust a landlord.

As soon as the crash of 2008 occurred, everyone in the United States was left without a paddle. One such person was Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father who, after much fighting and arguing with the court, gets evicted from his Orlando home. Seeing that he has lost his family-home, Nash sets out to do whatever he can to get it back – even if that means having to join up and work for the same man who kicked him out of his house to begin with: real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver has certain practices that aren’t what some would call “ethical”, or better yet, “legal”, but the money’s so good that Nash doesn’t care. Eventually though, Nash begins to move up the ladder, which takes him away from working on the homes, and brings him now to actually having to interact with the tenants who are in the actual homes. This mostly involves Nash posting notices on doors, warning tenants of being vacated, and, as time rolls on, even having to kick some tenants on his own. Clearly this is something that Nash doesn’t feel comfortable with, but once again, it’s all about the money and the prospect of getting his family back in order to the way they once were.


So message-y!

Have you ever been stuck in a lecture at all in your life, whether it be with your parents, a teacher, or one of those Jesus-nuts from off the street, and not want to leave? Instead, you hold on to every single word that they say, even though you know the end-point? You know that they’re not going to start off by stating something like, “Gay marriage is bad”, and then end with, “Well, you know, you can do what you want.” The lecture is, most definitely, going to start with an agenda, continue on with that agenda, and, you guessed it, end with that same agenda. And yet, something about the lecture is just keeping you on your toes and surprisingly interested.

That’s how I felt with 99 Homes – a long lecture about the housing crisis and all the evil-doers behind it, yet, I never wanted to turn away or leave.

Eventually, that time did come around, but that’s not till later, so just wait dammit! Listen to me lecture about stuff now!

For one, Ramin Bahrani seems to know what he’s talking about here. Clearly, he’s put his heart and soul into material that, for a good majority of people out there, will not find an easy way to handle. It will, most likely, hit too close to home, hard, and re-open old wounds that were probably still healing. However, Bahrani seems to be interested in what these wounds still hold. Are they sadness? Are they grief? Or, are they wishes that something better occurred?

Well, 99 Homes is, in a way, that fantasy being played-out. One thing is certain about the movie, and that’s that it’s not totally a drama. I mean, yes, it’s most definitely a drama that’s emotional, sad, and for a good portion, filled with lots of interesting talking-points, but in all honesty, is really a thriller. Once we see Garfield’s Dennis Nash start picking up work as one of Shannon’s Rick Carver’s lackeys, then it’s balls to the walls from there. This Nash fella is taking away pools, air-conditioners and handing out eviction notices to people who have no clue just what the hell kind of storm has hit them dead-on in the face. While, at the same time, he’s making all of this money and seeming to be loving it.

Sure, he’s morally-conflicted by the fact that the person he’s getting rich off of, is the very same person who got him kicked out of his house, but because the money’s continuing to come in and the dreams seem promising, he lets it all slide by. And you know what? It’s hard to watch this and not want him to, either. Dennis Nash, as he’s presented to us, is nothing more than just your average, blue-collar dude who, like many others just like him, was short-shifted when the crash of 2008 came around and had no idea of what to do next with his life, his family, or his career. All he knew was what he was good at and tried to go where the money went.

That’s why, when we see Nash get thrown out of his house, it’s disturbing and visceral. Many people had to go through the same ordeal he’s going through and it was most definitely 100% more tragic to them. And that’s why, when we see that Nash is clearly pleased with himself making all of this cash money, it’s great to see him happy and enjoying himself. After all, he’s just a normal dude who isn’t under normal circumstances, so why continue to act normal? Why not try something new and go with that from there?

"When you said, 'movie with Spider-Man,' I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who's this damn kid!"

“When you said, ‘movie with Spider-Man,’ I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who’s this damn kid!”

Clearly, Rahmin Bahrani thinks this is a bad idea. However, his movie proves otherwise.

Bahrani has crafted a nice little thriller that takes you through everything one may need to know about the housing-crash, how it was operated, who was responsible, and those who were affected the most. But at the center of it all, is probably the most realistic character of the bunch, who also seems to be the most sinister: Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver. There’s no denying the fact that Michael Shannon’s a good actor, but here, as Rick Carver, he gets to stretch his wings a whole lot more and show, that even despite his character being a pretty despicable human specimen, there’s still something we want to watch and see more of him.

We know that he’s a baddie, but we also know that he, like many others, are just trying to get by with what he knows and what he’s best at. But what’s best about Carver is that he doesn’t try to make any excuses or apologies for the way he is – he just is. For instance, there’s a scene in the middle of the film where Carver laces into this tirade about how, “America was built on winners. Not losers.” It’s not just hard to take your eyes off of him because it’s literally just a single-shot, zooming in on his face, but also, because some of what Shannon is spouting on about is true. You may not want to believe it as being such, but it is and it makes this movie feel like a smart bit of preaching, rather than just preaching for the sake of it.

And don’t let me forget Andrew Garfield, because the man is great here! What with him being forced to play Peter Parker, it’s hard to remember that, at one time, Garfield was a very promising, young, and talented actor that seemed primed and ready for some very interesting material to come his way. Now with Spidey out of his way, Garfield seems like he’s enjoying some time being able to dig deep into characters that aren’t the kind you’d expect someone of his good-looks to play; you know, such as a middle-aged, middle-class single-father.

However, as good as Garfield may be, his character sadly falls prey to an ending that, honestly, came close to ruining the movie for me.

I won’t spoil much, other than to say that it felt like Bahrani, throughout a good majority of 99 Homes, was making a movie that wasn’t going to play it nice, sweet and kind, and instead, go for the gritty-realism that’s expected of source material such as this. However, he does the bait-and-switch and decides that maybe he wants some melodrama, messages, and red herrings thrown into the mix. I’ve already said too much, but just know, when the ending comes around, it may disappoint you more than please.

That may just be me, though.

Consensus: 99 Homes is a timely-thriller that gets by on the excellent performances, however, is a bit short-shifted by a weak ending that keeps it away from being a whole lot better.

8 / 10

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sicario (2015)

Do drugs kill? Or do people? Think, think, people!

After a sting operation goes terribly wrong, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is left wanting any sorts of revenge on whoever may have been responsible. Thankfully, she gets called up to the big leagues when higher-ups in the FBI, like Matt (Josh Brolin), recruit her for a mission to take down a notorious drug lord in Mexico. Kate knows that this is what she wants to do, but she starts to see that the mission may not be all that it appears to be. For one, an informant that the FBI is working with, named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), comes from a very shady history that, in ways, seems a lot more reprehensible than the one that this drug lord is most known for. Secondly, Kate has to fear for her life in ways that she didn’t expect. While she think she may be doing the right thing, she’s making herself a target for all sorts of evil-doers that may be associated with the cartel that her operation is targeting, but some may also be associated with the FBI – the people that she’s supposed to be protected by and arm-in-arms with.

I don’t know what sort of travesty occurred in Denis Villeneuve’s personal life, but after having seen this, Enemy and Prisoners, I can easily say that Villeneuve wants to hurt someone. Whether it be people, animals, or trees, Denis Villeneuve seems like he’s got an ax to grind with someone and because of that, we’re just watching him make these dark, brutal, brooding, and downright angry movies about people that are, well, dark, brutal, brooding and downright angry as well.

I'd hate to be on the end of anything with Benincio Del Toro. Not to mention, his gun.

I’d hate to be on the end of anything with Benincio Del Toro. Not to mention, his scope.

And I’m loving it all!

I mean, of course, whatever happened Denis, I’m sorry for your loss. But please, whatever has you so upset with the world you live in, let it continue to mess with your for a little while longer. So long as you’re making movies like Sicario, where we can see you vent all of your frustration in mean, but exciting ways.

With that said, too, yeah, Sicario‘s pretty awesome. In every sense of the word, it’s a thriller. But because this Denis Villeneuve we’re talking about here and somebody like, I don’t know, say, the one and only Michael Bay, there’s a lot more brewing underneath the surface other than just more guns, more bullets, more blood, more death, more drugs, and more Mexican gangbangers. Of course, all of the guns, bullets, blood, death, drugs, and Mexican gangbangers help keep this movie exciting and tense as anything I saw displayed in Prisoners, but when you strip all of that away, you got a really interesting story about how the FBI is, well, shady.

Through Emily Blunt’s Kate Mercer, we see this world where FBI agents and cartel members constantly duke it out between who has more money, more power, and most importantly, more weapons at their disposal. In fact, in me just describing that, I realized that this movie would have been at least ten times better, had it literally just been a one-on-one, winner-take-all, last-man-standing battle between the FBI and Mexican drug cartel. They could have gotten Bruce Buffer to announce it, Jim Ross and Joe Rogan to commentate, and hell, even Mills Lane to referee everything.

But sadly, Sicario is not that movie.

But I don’t mean that in a bad way because, in its own, all-too-realistic manner, Sicario has a lot to say other than that, “people who do and get involved with drugs are bad, bad people that you probably should stay away from on the streets or at social gatherings.” In this post-9/11 world that we currently live in, nowadays, the FBI and so many other people involved with the government and in catching baddies, are so concerned with getting the highest top-tier guys that they can find, that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there. This, in some more ways than one, means that they find themselves in some shady alliances that, on paper, may look nice, but when you get to thinking about it, don’t really make much of sense. Why would the FBI, let one violent, sadistic, and smart criminal go free, just because he helped them get to another one who has the same characteristics? Is it because one bowed-out before the other? Or is it because it’s the only hand that the FBI can play with that makes them look good to their superiors and the people who hand-out promotions?

I’ll let you think about that one, but yeah, you get my drift. If you look under Sicario‘s hood, you’ll find that there’s a lot more going on and to be said, which is fine and all, but occasionally, it does take away the sheer awesomeness that is the action here. And by “action”, I don’t mean fist-fights, gun-battles, car-chases and/or sword-action galore – I mean the kind of action you see in Michael Mann movies where the sheer fact that it’s being lead-up to and spread out over time, intensifies it a whole lot more. There’s one sequence in particular where the FBI is stuck on the Mexican-border with a hostage of theirs and honestly, I won’t spoil it any further. Just know that it’s a pretty rad sequence so that, when it comes up, you can get ready and let your friends know how rad it’s going to be.

Courtesy of Dan the Man, of course.

And what makes the action all the more exciting is the fact that it’s all being shot by the legend himself, Roger Deakins. Roger Deakins could shoot a film-sequence of me sitting on my love seat, flicking through the premium channels to where I found good re-runs of my favorite Wire episodes (spoiler alert, I never do!) and it would have more layers of beauty than a whole Adam Sandler movie ever would. He’s one of the main reasons Sicario breathes as vibrantly as it does, regardless of what’s happening. People can be sitting around, talking, or they could be getting all ready and amped-up to blow some people’s heads off. Either way, it’s always lovely to watch, all because of Mr. Deakins himself.

Look out for the camo!

Look out for the camo!

Not to mention, too, the cast is pretty great. This isn’t a total surprise to me considering that Denis Villeneuve got just about every role down to a perfect T with Prisoners, but still, it’s worth noting that when your movie features Emily Blunt as a bad-ass, kick-ass, take-some-names FBI agent and doesn’t have me laugh my rear-end off, then yeah, you’re solid gold. Granted, Blunt is a great actress who has shown, many times before, that she can move around any genre she likes and make it work in her favor, but still, this role could have easily been a silly one, had the wrong actress been placed into it. Then again, the fact that it was an actress placed into this role to begin with, and not some chiseled, ripped-up, and beefy dude with other masculine features, is worth praising.

But the reason why Blunt doesn’t seem to get too much notice is because, quite frankly, she’s used as our eyes and ears for this story. She’s at least one step above that and has something resembling a personality, but overall, she’s basically our conduit to everything that goes down and as to why this story is being told. Which is good, because without her, we wouldn’t have been treated to the likes of Benincio Del Toro as Alejandro.

As soon as you see Benincio Del Toro in a movie about Mexican drug cartels, you automatically think, “Oh great. Re-run of Traffic! Next!” But because Del Toro’s an actor and a very good one at that, he likes to shake things up and show that he can give this character a type of menace that will have you terrified for days. However, at the same time, he gives this guy a conscience that makes you think he’s a human being that doesn’t like to chop down trees for the hell of it, but at the same time, still doesn’t make you think he’s a total nice guy, either. There’s a certain back-story to this character that puts everything he does or says into perspective and it gives Del Toro absolute free reign to do whatever he wants with this character, and it’s a blast to watch.

Sure, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, and surprisingly, Jeffrey Donovan, are all good in their own rights, but it’s Del Toro who runs away with this movie and will have you thinking about him for days.

And also the cool explosions, bro!

Consensus: Tense, well-acted, and most importantly, complex, Sicario is more than just your average thriller with lots of explosions and bullets flying, but still takes much pleasure in showing those things, too.

8.5 / 10

Damn. I still hate that Josh Krasinski, man!

Damn. I still hate that Josh Krasinski, man!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Heaven Knows What (2015)

Kids, for the millenials.

After she commits suicide because the love of her life, Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), doesn’t return the same feelings she has for him, Harley (Arielle Holmes) slices her own wrists and ends up in a rehab clinic. Eventually, she gets out and is supposed to be all clean, new, and fresh; however, what happens is basically the same old, same old. Harley turns back to the world of drugs, where she’s constantly trying to get by on scamming people, day in and day out, all just to get whichever heroin she can find next for the right price. She’s not alone in this seedy underworld as Mike (Buddy Duress), a drug-dealer and sometimes guy-she-hooks-up-with, has something of a partnership with Harley in getting as much money as they can so that they can pay their rent, get the drugs, get high, and continue into the same pattern the next day, and the day after that, and so on and so forth. But what keeps Harley alive and well is the fact that she still loves Ilya, even if he could care less about her. Because, to her, Ilya is the one she wants to spend the rest of her life, whether he wants to or not, and that causes a lot of problems once Mike and Ilya start feuding over most things teenage heroin-addicts feud over.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

A lot of people may hate Heaven Knows What for solely being about, well, heroin addicts. Young heroin addicts, to be specific, but heroin addicts nonetheless who, really don’t have much to do with their lives. Their days, for the most part, consist of hustling whoever they can hustle, doing whatever it takes, and losing all sorts of self-respect, just so that they can have that next, wonderful, beautiful, and amazing high that they’ve been fighting for since the second they woke up. That’s basically it and you know what?

It’s hard to ever take your eyes off of.

Most of that has to do with the fact that we hardly ever see these kinds of stories/characters told and given to us on the big screen. And even when they are, they’re usually done so in a way that’s preachy, obvious and judgmental; here, the smart thing that the Safdie brothers do is that they don’t ever, not for a second, make it seem like they’re judging these characters for who they are, what they’re doing, and the naughty ideas they’ve got in their heads. The Safdie’s see these characters for all that they are and because of that, the movie itself takes a back-seat to what it is that these characters are up to.

And sure, while it may not seem like they’re not doing much of anything at all (except just getting high), there’s still something incredibly compelling that makes the events all the more interesting. Sometimes, they’ll be in the park, or on the streets, or in a McDonald’s, just generally acting like a bunch of hooligans, causing all sorts of shenanigans, and not giving a single turd about who it is that they’re bothering, offending, or pissing-off-to-high-heaven – they’re high and living life, so why should they?

In a way, Heaven Knows What feels like a documentary that the Safdie’s just got very lucky in being able to film. There are certain moments that are staged (and they’re the weakest), but honestly, there’s plenty of scenes here that make it seem like the Safdie’s just told their actors to go out there, do whatever it is that they wanted to, and not stop until they said, “cut”. Though it’s never clear just how much is made up on the spot, or actual, genuine dialogue written for those moments in particular, there’s no denying the fact that whatever’s going on here, it’s working. It could have easily been another one of those micro-budget, grit-pieces from first-time directors that are just about as meandering as a Joe Swanberg piece (early Swanberg, that is), but surprisingly and thankfully, it doesn’t turn out that way one bit.

And even if it does, so what?

Heroin chic?

Heroin chic?

These characters, literally, live each and every one of their days, meandering along the dirty, raunchy streets, having no clue of what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do anything, or where the hell they’re going to end up at by the day’s end. All they do know is that, well, they’re going to high as hell, yo. Because of that, the fact that the movie feels like there’s almost no direction behind it whatsoever, works perfectly; these characters clearly have no directions in life, so why should they have any direction anywhere else!

And like I said before, the movie doesn’t try to make any of these characters into saint-like figures that are clearly better and made for more than what they’re surrounded by. Of course, that’s implied, seeing as how they’re all young, aspiring and street smart kids, but the movie never makes any one person out like they’re the nice people of the group and therefore, should be seen as such. Granted, nobody here is really considered a sinner, either – there’s just people who are a lot more morally reprehensible than others.

The only one who doesn’t seem to be is Arielle Holmes as, Harley, who is basically just a semi-fictionalized version of her own self. You’d think that because Holmes wrote this, that her character would get the lovely and sympathetic treatment, but gratefully, that doesn’t happen. She is just as worse than the company she keeps, but she’s also one that seems like she’s got more of a head on her shoulders, as well as a heart in her chest.

Of course, she’s also always seeming to get a needle in her arm, too, but hey, nobody’s perfect!

Consensus: Gritty, dark, disturbing, and ugly, but in all the right ways, Heaven Knows What doesn’t settle for any sort of narrative and instead, gives us a compelling portrait of people’s lives we don’t usually see in movies nowadays, as sad as they may be.

8 / 10

See? The heroin world isn't all that bad! Cuddling's allowed!

See? The heroin world isn’t all that bad! Cuddling’s allowed!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

Yup, I’m home-schooling.

The current state of the USA’s education system is not a very pretty one. Kids don’t seem to be learning anything; aren’t getting into college; are falling behind; and are coming nowhere near being able to pass certain grades that they should. They have it lucky, though! Some kids aren’t even getting into schools and instead, find themselves on the streets, without a book in hand or an adult to lead them across the way. This is where our independent teachers come in to show what a single person can do if they show love, dedication, and passion for teaching, and helping kids learn.

Before I step past the gates of hell and go all out with my thoughts and opinions, let me just tell you a little something about me. I’m not rich, my family’s not rich, and we sure as hell wouldn’t be considered high-class. My father has a job that has amazing benefits. With that being said, my parents never seemed to take the one road and send me to public school, considering they thought it would be a waste of time and I would learn little to nothing (my parents’ thoughts, not mine). That’s why they sent me to a catholic school from the 1st, to the 8th grade, but after that was a bit of a problem.

See, my older sissy had gone to a very nice, productive, and expensive private school, passed there with flying colors, and got into a very good college (Providence, go Friars!), but the problem was what the hell my parents were going to do with me: the black sheep of the family. Throughout grade school, I never really was knocking each and every test out of the park. I struggled, studied, and did my best. Was it always perfect? No, but my parents felt as if it was time for me to give myself a bit of a challenge and send to me to the same private school that they sent my sister to, as not only did it work for her, but got her a career as an accountant (if you’re reading this Siobhan, you’re the bomb!).

Look on the bright side kid: third is the one with the hairy chest.

Look on the bright side kid: Third is the one with the hairy chest.

Did it work? Not really.

Not only was the private school a challenge for me, academically, but also personally. I got involved with people I shouldn’t have, got myself into extracurricular activities that I shouldn’t have bothered with, and barely even opened up a book. After a dismal Freshman year, my parents decided that it was time to start a fresh and anew, and sent me back to my roots: Catholic school. This was something I was very happy about because I knew it’d be an easier, more efficient use of my time, and a lot of the people there, would be the people I had known all of my life. After that, I graduated high school and am currently still in college, where I duke it out with professors and collegiate books, each and every day. Some days are better than others, but hey, it’s school.

What the hell else am I gonna do with all of my time?!?

Most of you are probably wondering one thing after that whole speech: “What in the hell was that all about?” Well, I used that as a way to show you that not only can I barely connect with any of these kids when it comes to getting the right education and struggling to keep their grades up, but I also don’t really know what it’s like to really dedicate myself to school. I’ve always gotten by just by doing my thing, didn’t need much help from teachers, tutors, mom, dad, etc. – just got by the way I needed to. But no matter what my report cards may say about my dedication to work, I still know that each and every kid deserves a chance to learn, read, and write, and the fact that most aren’t getting that out there doesn’t just upset, it downright fuels me.

Watching this movie, made me realize just what it’s like to be a teacher, in-and-out of the classroom. The movie does paint some bad pictures of those teachers that are part of Unions, and in ways, rightfully so, but what this movie does do, is that it celebrates the profession of a teacher. A teacher is the person that stands there, teaches you whatever subject it is, helps you in anyway that they can, and never gives up, no matter how many obstacles may stand in your way.

That’s the definition of a real teacher, but not every, single one is like that.

In fact, a lot more teachers are starting to become more and more of a bore, than a chore, in the way that they just take attendance, sit down, read the paper, and wait till their time is up so that they can collect their money, and be off to roam throughout the country. They don’t even need to do anything, and it doesn’t matter to them because they’ll never be fired for their piss-poor performance. They will always have tenure on their contracts, will always be supported by the Union, and may never, ever be questioned for what it is that they do right, and what they do wrong. Are those the types of people you want looking after your child and his/her future?

I know I sure as hell don’t and I don’t think I stand alone.

Writer/director Davis Guggenheim knows this and knows that it’s better to change the ways of the school system, before it goes on any further and totally loses our kids. It’s sad to see kids like these lose their hopes of ever making it in life, doing what they want to do, learning whatever it is that they have a fiery passion for, and also be able to make a living off of it, all because schools don’t help them, and refuse to really let them grow, not just as people, but as students. It’s a sad reality that we live in, but it’s the reality that most people are faced with and it’s even worse to know that it never ends. Whenever a kid leaves school, he always needs to be taught something, whether it be manners, school work, or just life lessons in general. That’s where the parents kick in and I think that’s the most important pieces of learning there is.

At age 8, she is about 500 steps ahead of me already. Go get 'em, girl!

At age 8, she is already 500 steps ahead of me. Go get ’em, girl!

Guggenheim knows this and doesn’t let us turn a blind eye to it. The problem I think he runs into, is that he focuses a bit too much on the fact that Charter schools are the way to go. Now, to be fair, he doesn’t outright say that in his narration, but he does show that more and more people are learning their options towards charter schools because they are free, prosperous, and will most likely, help your kid learn more. These are all true, but do we really want our kids having to go through a lottery in order to make sure that they can get an education? But hey, those are my thoughts and mine alone.

It doesn’t reflect poorly on the movie, because, well, it’s incredibly well-done. Guggenheim lets us know pretty early-on that he has a certain connection to the school system and makes his case by focusing on the right people who deserve it the most. Sure, the more-attentive teachers out there get a lot more attention than others, but it’s the families and the kids who have to wait around and work the hardest that they can to ensure that they get the education that they want.

It’s a very hard-hitting documentary that never loses it’s steam because it has such an emotionally-charged subject at hand. If you feel as if the world we live in, where people seem to be getting dumber and dumber by the second, and are losing faith in reading a book, and gaining more faith in watching a 20-second video of some dude in an afro falling on his facethen see this movie for the painting it portrays of the world. However, your on personal-beliefs might just center on what you think is best for your kid, his/her needs, and how they learn in school. Whether or not you want to send your kid to a school or not, is totally up to you. Just know, that there are always teachers around, no matter where you go. Whether it be you, or a person who actually gets paid to exhume knowledge on others.

Consensus: Teachers, moderators, parents, and kids may all react to Waiting for “Superman” differently, depending on what type of their own, personal status may be, but one can’t deny the fact that it paints a grim, but hopeful picture of what our future looks like, in terms of in the classroom and out.

8.5 / 10

Yeah, Bill feels the same as a poor, single-mother trying to send her kid to a charter school.

Bill feels the same as a poor, single-mother trying to send her kid to a charter school.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Glory (1989)

Yes. People did go to war over the Confederate flag.

During the Civil War, the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the more infamous troupes, due to the fact that they were, for the most part, filled with black men. Some were freemen from the North, others were slaves, but all of them were under the command of Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a commander who is still reeling from the affects of the warfare he’s experienced in his lifetime. Already, before they even set out for battle, there was already plenty of trepidation towards the 54th, because some believed that blacks could not be controlled, or commanded in such a way that would have them prepped and ready for war. Despite this, Shaw, along with his second-in-command (Cary Elwes), try their hardest to not only discipline the soldiers, but even relate and connect with them, as hard as it may seem to do. Some soldiers, like John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), are more than willing to go along with all of the problems they encounter fighting for a country that doesn’t accept them as human beings, whereas others, like Trip (Denzel Washington), aren’t and want the whole unit to know that they aren’t fighting for freedom at all – they’re just fighting to die. Obviously, this causes problems between each and everyone and all culminates in the disastrous attack on the Confederate fort in Charleston, S.C.

Goofy-looking 'stache.

Goofy-looking ‘stache.

Glory is, as most people say, a “classic war film”. Not to take any spit out of that statement, but that’s sort of true. It’s a very good movie, in fact, and one that shows both the humane, as well as harsh realities of the war. At the same time, however, it’s also a film about slavery, and how two races can simultaneously connect to one another, while also having to prepare for a war that they may not actually win and come away alive from. Edward Zwick clearly had a lot on his plate here and it’s one of the many things that makes Glory a solid war film that deserves to be seen by any person out there who either, loves film, history, or a combination of the two.

But, that doesn’t make it a perfect movie, as some may call it.

For one, its extremely dated in the way the story is told. What I mean by this is that rather than getting a story about black people trying to get by under extreme war-conditions, told by a black person, we are told the story through their white commander, as played by Matthew Broderick. It’s understandable that the reason for this is to show how the black soldiers are helping to make Shaw open his eyes a bit more to the realities that, well, believe it or not, African Americans are humans, too. Even though he lives in a world where slavery does exist (although, not for much longer), he knows that these black men are just as honest and humane as he is, which is why we see the tale told, in his own words, through his own eyes, and in his own way.

However, at the same time, it sort of feels like a disservice to the actual black folks in the story. Why are we being told that these fellas are all magical and lovely people, when we can clearly see that happening, right in front of our very own eyes? Did we really need to deal with Shaw’s voice-over to begin with? In all honesty, probably not, because it’s already understood that Shaw will start to warm up and grow closer to these black soldiers that are under his command. So, for anything else to be thrown on, makes it feel like stuffy and, well, a bit schmaltzy. Not saying that it didn’t happen in this way, but the way Shaw is used as our heart and soul of the story, makes Glory seem like it’s taking the easy road out – rather than letting the story be told by those who are most affected to begin with.

But, everything else about Glory, aside from that little nugget of anger, is great.

Like I stated before, Zwick clearly had a lot to work with here, and he does so seamlessly. He gives enough attention to the black soldiers that matter most and show how each and every personality can, at times, clash, while at other times, rub against one another to create a far more perfect and in-sync union. No character here is made out to be a perfect human being, and because as such, it’s easy to sympathize with these characters early-on – and makes it all the more tragic to realize that, in all honesty, they aren’t really fighting for much.

There’s one scene in which this is presented perfectly when Denzel Washington’s Trip goes on about the fact that even when the war is over and everybody goes home, he’ll go back to whatever slum he’s been forced to stay in, whereas Shaw and his white counterparts will be able to head back and relax in his big old mansion, and continue to live his life of total luxury. This scene, above all else, drives home the point that these soldiers may, yes, be fighting for their lives, but are doing so in a way because, quite frankly, they have nowhere else to go, or nothing else better to make up with their time. Most of the soldiers are slaves, so therefore, they have no freedom to begin with; however, even the ones that are free, don’t really have much to do except still be treated as minorities and non-equals, although not as harshly as slaves.

Mediocre 'stache.

Mediocre ‘stache.

So yes, it’s a very sad tale, if you really think about it. But Glory shows that there is some light to be found in the folds. There’s heart, there’s humor, and above all else, there’s humanity here that shows that each and everyone of these soldiers were, race notwithstanding, human beings. And because of this fact, the performances are all the more impressive by showing the depth to which these characters are portrayed.

Though Broderick’s Shaw didn’t really need to be the central figure of this huge story, he’s still solid enough in the role to make me forget about that fact. Ever since Ferris Bueller, it’s known that Broderick has always been trying to get past that image and, occasionally, he’ll strike gold. This is one of those times wherein we see Shaw as not only a clearly messed-up vet of the war, but also one that has enough pride and courage to still go back to the battle and ensure that each and everyone of his men are fit for the same battle he will partake in. Cary Elwes is also fine in showing that, even despite him being more sympathetic to the slavery cause, still has to push his men as far as he possibly can, without over-stepping his superior, obviously.

But, as expected, the best performances come from the three cast-members who get the most attention out of all the other black characters: Andre Baugher, Morgan Freeman, and of course, the star-marking turn from Denzel Washington. As an educated, smart and free black man, Baugher’s character faces a lot more tension from the rest of the black soldiers, and his transition from being a bit too soft for all the training, to becoming a far more rough, tough and gritty one, is incredibly believable. Freeman, too, stays as the heart and soul of the black soldiers and proves to be the one who steps up the most when push comes to shove and a leader is needed. Freeman, in just about everything he does, always seems to become a leader of sorts, so it’s no surprise that the role here fits him like a glove.

However, the one that shines above the rest is, obviously, Denzel Washington as the rebel of the group, Trip.

And the reason why I said “obviously”, is because it’s well-known by now that Denzel was given an Oscar for his work here and understandably so; not only does he steal every scene, but when you get down to the bottom of the story, you realize that he’s the heart and soul of the whole thing. Without him, this would have probably been a normal tale of blacks and whites coming together, to fight the obstacles set against them, and fight a war, but it’s Trip who’s the one that hits everybody’s head and wakes them up to the harsh realities that is the world they live in. Denzel is, at times, hilarious, but also brutally honest, and it’s his voice that keeps this movie’s humanity afloat.

Now, if only the movie had been about him to begin with and not the white dude.

Consensus: Heartfelt, emotional, and well-acted on practically all fronts, Glory is a solid war picture, that also happens to have a message about racial equality that doesn’t try too hard to hit you over the head.

8.5 / 10

No 'stache at all and guess what? He's the coolest one.

No ‘stache at all and guess what? He’s the coolest one.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

I’ll See You In My Dreams (2015)

There is such a thing as “being too alone”.

Even though her husband’s been dead for nearly 20 years, Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) hasn’t ever really tried to find a replacement of any sorts. Though she has her dog, Carol’s been quite happy to be by herself and not have to worry about another person in her life that may, or may not, stick around any longer. One day, however, Carol’s dog tragically passes-away, which leaves her all alone, once again. This time, however, Carol feels as though it’s time to make a change and actually start hanging around people. There’s the pool-boy (Martin Starr), who comes around not to just check-up on the pool, but to also hang with Carol because he can’t get past the fact that she was, at one point in her life, this awesome songstress. And then, there’s Bill (Sam Elliott), a fellow older-person who is instantly attracted to Carol and wants everything to do with her. Though he comes on a bit strong, Carol believes that he’s the one that she can spend the rest of her life with. But Carol’s personal issues come into play and it isn’t before long that she soon realizes that maybe she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, even though she’s already lived plenty of it so far.

Martin Starr?

Martin Starr?

I’ll See You In My Dreams is the kind of teeny, tiny indie that I love to see. It’s one that I assume is going to be a good watch because of how many people say it is, but when I actually get down to watching it, I’m totally surprised. What seems like a movie made for older-people to laugh, cry and relate to, actually works for anybody who decides to view it; loss is a universal feeling that anyone can feel, no matter who or what may be lost. That’s why it was all the more shocking when I realized that I’ll See You In My Dreams doesn’t seem to fall for any of the annoying conventions and cliches that we normally expect these kinds of movies to fall in.

For instance, Martin Starr’s character seems like he’s written just so that he can play the younger-apple-of-the-much-older-protagonist’s eye, which, in a way, he sort of is, but co-writer/director Brett Haley and writer Marc Basch are a lot smarter than that. Instead, they make this character seem a little more aimless and sad than you’d expect, therefore, it makes sense as to why he would want to hang around someone who is almost four decades older than him. Maybe he wants to have something of a romantic relationship with her, maybe he doesn’t, but either way, it’s interesting to see how each and every one of their scenes play out, especially since they don’t always go to, or end up places you’d expect them to originally.

And that’s the magic of life; things don’t always go down quite the way you want, or expect them to. Curve-balls can get thrown into your way and it’s up to how you, yourself can get past them and move on to make yourself better.

Which is why it’s really interesting to see how the character of Carol handles loneliness in a way that most movies don’t like to portray: Which is, “hey, I’m doing just fine.” Most movies in this same vein would show Carol as being a miserable, lifeless and angry old lady who wants a man in her life, but at the same time, can’t seem to get along with one well enough to where she could fulfill that need. Instead, here, Carol’s shown as being a very mild, well-manner and easy-going gal that’s been on her own for quite some time and seems perfectly fine with that. Does that mean she doesn’t want something of a companion in her life? No, she definitely wouldn’t mind one, but at the same time, she isn’t necessarily seeking one to make her life feel more fulfilling and happy.

Although her gal-pals (played perfectly by June Squibb, Rhea Pearlman, and Mary Kay Place) all get on her case for not trying to get a man, she shoos them off and does what she wants. However, when she does start to get a person in her life, romantically, in the form of Bill, the movie doesn’t seem like it’s back-tracking and trying to make itself into more of a conventional rom-com. That Bill himself was the one who actually approached Carol and asked her out in the first place, already shows that the movie isn’t trying to make Carol into some sort of love-sick fool, for some odd reason.

Or Sam Elliott?

Or Sam Elliott?

It should be noted that Sam Elliott does a wonderful job as Bill, because he seems like a genuinely charming, nice guy. However, there is a certain odd flavor to the way his character acts on certain dates with Carol that makes you wonder if he’s already too smitten with Carol, or is just using her as a life achievement of his own personal pleasure. Clearly, he’s a nice guy and doe seem to have feelings for Carol, but how genuine they may be, is constantly up in the air and it’s what keeps their scenes together exciting, as well as compelling to watch and listen to, even in the smallest detail.

And while I’m at it, it should be definitely noted that Blythe Danner, finally getting her own chance to shine in a movie of her own, is perfect here.

Danner is perfect for this role as Carol, because she says so much, without saying anything at all. Because Carol herself doesn’t always say what she wants, or in ways, just refuses to do so, already speaks volumes to Danner’s skill as an actress; we don’t always know what Carol is thinking or feeling at any given time, but we know that there’s definitely something going on in her mind that we want to hear about and see. That’s why Danner, who is always lovely to see in anything, works this character in so many wonderful ways, that we’re able to see all sorts of layers to her than just what’s presented. Sure, you can most definitely chalk a lot of that up to writing, but Danner is most definitely the main reason why Carol’s more interesting to watch, even when it seems like she’s doing nothing at all.

Heck! She’s a lot more interesting than some of the girls my same age that I know!

Consensus: With a rare, but wonderful lead performance from Blythe Danner, I’ll See You In My Dreams is a small, but sweet tale that sees the typical conventions a story like this could fall for, and avoids them at every step.

8.5 / 10 

Oh, Blythe. You play 'em, girl!

Oh, Blythe. You play ’em, girl!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Black Mass (2015)

Tim Burton must feel pretty useless right about now.

Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) was one of the most notorious criminals in history. He ran South Boston by his rules, which, for the most part, consisted of a lot of drugs, booze, women, and murder – actually, there was lots and lots of murder involved. But the reason why Whitey was so able to get away with all of his criminal escapades was because he aligned himself with an old pal of his, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just so happened to be part of the FBI. Because Connolly looked up to and adored Bulger, he gets the FBI to strike some sort of deal where they’ll take down all of Bulger’s enemies (the Italian mob, local kingpins, etc.), and Bulger himself will practically be able to get away with anything he wants. Nobody quite catches on to this fact just yet, but eventually, the blood-shed, the drugs, and the murders become too much and too frequent to the point of where people start to notice that something is awry with this deal between Bulger and the FBI. And it all comes down to Connolly and Bulger’s relationship; one that will ruin both of their lives forever.

"Don't you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!"

“Don’t you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!”

Finally, after a few months of sitting through some okay-to-good movies, it seems like the time has come for extraordinarily great movies to start hitting the cinemaplexes. While I am very tempted to say “Oscar season is upon us”, my better-half doesn’t want to because that seems to have recently given off a negative connotation. Rather than just being about good movies that deserve our attention, Oscar season is more about how studios finagle and manipulate their way into getting more votes and notice from the Academy, so that they can make more money, become more successful, and continue to do so for as long as they want to. And while Black Mass may not be a total Oscar-bait-y movie, through and through, it’s still a sign of good things to, hopefully, come in the next few or so months.

Oh yeah, and Johnny Depp’s pretty good in this too.

In fact, he’s really good. As good as he’s been since he started hanging around with Tim Burton. And while you could make the case that, yes, Depp is once again playing a notorious gangster (like he did in Public Enemies as John Dillinger not too long ago), there’s still something that feels different about this portrayal here that makes it seem like we’re not watching Johnny Depp playingJohnny Depp“. But instead, we’re watching Johnny Depp play Whitey Bulger, a ruthless, cut-throat, mean and sadistic crime-boss that intimidated practically everyone around him, that nobody ever dared to step up to him.

Sure, some of that has to do with the sometimes-distracting make-up job that’s trying so desperately hard to make Depp have some sort of similarities to the infamous Bulger, but Depp is so dedicated to making a character, that it works throughout the whole movie. He’s one-note for sure, but he’s so scary and terrifying to watch, even as he holds conversations that seem to go south as soon as somebody steps slightly out-of-line, that it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. Which is an all the more impressive feat when you consider that Black Mass isn’t exactly a Depp-centerpiece, as much as it’s an ensemble piece, where everybody gets their chance to show up, do some solid work, and give Depp a run for his money.

Depp may still own the movie at the end the day, but it’s an effort that’s compelling.

This is mostly evident with Joel Edgerton’s performance as John Connolly, a close friend and confidante of Bulger who, after awhile, you begin to feel bad for. Though Connolly is dirty, corrupt, and tries to avoid every idea that Bulger may get incriminated for all the wrongdoings he’s committed, there’s still something interesting to view and dissect. That Connolly looks up to Bulger more as a big brother, rather than a pal, makes it all the more clear that there’s something inherently wrong with Connolly’s own psyche, but he doesn’t own up to the fact and watching Edgerton play around with this character, showing-off all sorts of shadings, is enjoyable. It may not be as showy of a performance as Depp’s, but there’s something that sits with you long after that puts Black Mass over the hill of being more than just “an entertaining gangster pic”.

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you're an FBI agent in the 1970's, you've got to have a sweet-ass 'stache!

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you’re an FBI agent in the 1970’s, you’ve got to have a sweet-ass ‘stache!

Which is to say that, yes, Black Mass is in fact, an entertaining gangster pic. Director Scott Cooper and co-writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth clearly have a love for these kinds of raw, gritty, and violent gangster flicks in the same vein as Scorsese and do well in constructing a movie that’s both fun, as well as emotional. While it’s hard to really get attached to any character in particular, there’s still interesting anecdotes made about certain character’s and their lives that make it more of an interesting watch.

For instance, though she only gets a few or so scenes, Julianne Nicholson is spectacular as Connolly’s wife who, from the very beginning, doesn’t like a single thing about Whitey Bulger. While she knows he’s helping her hubby out in getting a nice promotion, she also knows that the dude’s bad news; so much so, that she won’t even bother to sit at the same dinner table as him, let alone socialize with him at a party at her own house. Though this role is clearly limited to “disapproving wife”, there’s a lot more to her in the way Nicholson portrays her that makes us want to see a whole movie dedicated to just her.

Same goes for a lot of other characters here, as well.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Bill Bulger, Whitey’s bro, is a mayor who knows that his brother is up to no good, but is so willing to push it off to the side if that means he gets to have more power, politically speaking, that it’s actually scary; Peter Sarsgaard plays a drug-dealer that gets in on Whitey’s dealings and, although a total mess, still seems like a real guy who is easy to care for; Dakota Johnson only gets a few scenes as Whitey’s wife, but sets the basis for what Whitey himself will live by until the day he died; and of course, there’s the likes of Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, W. Earl Brown, Juno Temple, and a very emotional Rory Cochrane, that all add more layers to their characters, as well as the movie itself.

Though it doesn’t make the movie great, or better yet, perfect, it still makes it a highly enjoyable, mainstream gangster pic that has more to it than meets the eyes.

Or should I say, more than just bullets that meets the eyes.

Consensus: Led by a breathtaking performance from Johnny Depp, Black Mass benefits from its stacked-ensemble, but also has plenty more to say about its characters than just guns, blood, and crime.

8 / 10

Jack Sparrow who?

Jack Sparrow who?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Mend (2015)

Brothers will always compete against one another. It’s just nature.

Because he’s known for pissing-off quite a lot of those around him, Mat (Josh Lucas) gets kicked out onto the streets by his girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen). This leads Mat to many places, the last one of which is his brother’s apartment. It just so happens that on this one fateful night that Mat happens to be lurking around New York City, his brother, Alan (Stephen Plunkett) and his girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner) are throwing a small get-together of sorts filled with booze, cigs, good jams, and most of all, weed. Mat walks in and becomes apart of the party. The next morning, however, Alan and Farrah head out to Canada for a trip they’ve been planning for quite some time, leaving Mat home, all alone, without TV, or working electricity for that matter, either. It’s just Mat and his brother’s apartment for a short awhile and then Andrea and her kid show up, using the apartment as their own source of comfort because their place is currently crawling with bed bugs. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Alan comes back, clearly heart-broken and upset, which adds a bit more tension and unease for everybody in the who are setting up shop in his residence.

It’s very rare to get a movie about unlikable, self-loathing assholes who, believe it or not, stay unlikable, self-loathing assholes. So often do we get flicks that present a these characters as the kinds that we start off hating the absolute hell out of, and all of a sudden, the revelations begin to come out, the tears begin to stream, and the “sorry’s” are exchanged, and before we know it, these rather detestable human beings become completely different people. Even if it only took an-hour-and-a-half, the characters that we have learned to despise, soon become the ones that we love and want to give a hug to, rather than hold an argument or brawl with.

How I imagine the ladies always smother Josh Lucas at parties. Lucky bastard.

Not hard to imagine this is what happens to Josh Lucas at every party. Lucky bastard.

The Mend is not that movie and it’s great for that exact reason.

Sure, there is plenty else to praise and adore about writer/director John Magary’s directorial debut, but the fact that it takes these not-so-lovely characters, gives them the light of day, allows them to be who they are, and doesn’t hold back on their sometimes unforgivable actions, made me so happy to actually see play-out. Such as is the case with real life, the Mend has no real “villains” or “heroes” – everyone’s just sort of a person who makes mistakes, tries to make up for them, and will occasionally learn a lesson or two about life. However, they don’t always learn lesson, because, quite frankly, they don’t need to; they’re fine just being who they are.

And that’s one of the smarter aspects behind Magary’s craft. Though there’s an awful lot of direction in terms of how quick his camera can jump and move from one scene to another (with an over-aching score to boot), Magary’s more concerned with allowing these characters to show themselves off to the audience, rather than having him do so. This is especially evident in the first-half, where we literally thirty or so minutes stuck in this one, two-room apartment, with a party going on of hardly anybody we know. While it’s obvious that budgetary-issues may have been the cause of this, Magary makes it work because everything and everyone feels realistic.

Conversations, people, beer, and weed, come and go as they please. Sometimes, the conversations are fun, light and chock full of sensible witticisms that only artists from NYC could come up with; at other times, however, the conversations can take dark, serious turns where people begin to argue, yell at one another, and be on the brink of tears. And of course, there are people who oogle at one another one second, only to then be sucking face the next. Basically, this is a lot like many parties I’ve been to in my life and it’s great that Magary was able to work wonders with something as simple and easy-to-film as “the party-sequence”.

But, like I’ve stated before, that’s not all the Mend works well with.

At the center of all the yelling, the anger, the crying, the bleeding, the banging, and of course, the drinking, is a tale of two brothers who, despite not seeing each other a whole lot, still know one another well enough that it makes it easy for them to clash heads, as well as get along and have great times together. Though Magary likes to focus on the fact that these two brothers are different in many aspects, he also likes to point out that they’re actually a lot alike in others. While Mat may not have as much ambition with his career as Alan does, they still have problems satisfying ladies to the fullest extent, in their own respective ways; Alan may be able to socialize with more people than Mat, but at the same time, they’re still able to piss a lot people off because they always seem to voice their unwanted opinions on anything; and, well, if there is one similarity they have, through and through, they both don’t like to hear from their mom and would much rather like to not talk about her, or their dad for that matter, either.

Don't have a clue of what's going on here, but considering that they're brothers, I know that it's nothing pleasant.

Don’t have a clue of what’s going on here, but considering that they’re brothers, I know that it’s nothing pleasant.

Basically, anybody who has ever had a brother/sister, will know that this is exactly what a relationship such as that is like. And that’s why both Stephen Plunkett’s and especially, Josh Lucas’, are so good; in even the smallest details, they’re able to make us think of and see these characters in different lights than we probably did a scene or two before. While they’ve both got their problems, they’ve also got their traits that make them the least bit sympathetic, as small and as unnoticeable as they may be.

It’s probably more in the case of Lucas’ Mat, who is quite the abhorrent human specimen, but also has that “something” about him that makes you want to watch more of him. He’s lazy, rude, mean, and uninspired with just about every apple life offers him, and yet, why? Why do we want to sit and watch him interact with those around him? Why, even though he’s made it clear that he has no idea what he wants to do with his life (except for maybe a web designer), do we want him to get his shit together, pick up a job, make some money, move off of people’s couches, and live on his own? Why, despite the fact that he sorts of treats her and her son like total shit, do we want Mat to end up starting something meaningful with the lovely Andrea (played wonderfully by Lucy Owens).

Why oh why?

Well, it’s simple: He’s a character we can believe in.

Mat’s someone we could definitely meet in real life; whether it’d be at a party, roaming the streets of the city, or just by pure chance. Would we want to meet him? Probably not, but the fact is that we definitely could strike something of a conversation up with him, realize he’s a miserable person, and move on, happy that we’re done to be talking to him, but wouldn’t mind watching how he interacts with those around him. Lucas is amazing in this role because he plays up the whole aspect that Mat is indeed a dick, but also, one that knows he is and makes no apologies for it. He’s the perfect anti-hero and it’s Lucas’ role to run wild with, which isn’t something I’ve seen him do in recent time. Whether that be because his name may not carry as much weight now that he’s older, or just because he doesn’t choose to be in those huge, mainstream projects, this role makes me hope and pray that there’s more interesting roles from this guy to come.

And the same goes for Magary. Even though the final-act does get to be a bit over-the-top and showy, there’s still so much here that promises that character studies such as the Mend are still alive and well. It’s just a matter of who wants to make them, what they have to say, and whether or not the character’s stay who they are throughout, without trying to smile nice for the camera.

Because that’s how most of people in real life are anyway.

Consensus: Despite the sloppy wrap-up, the Mend still shows a new, bright talent in John Magary, as well as a bright new awakening for the career of the supremely talented Josh Lucas.

8 / 10

E-cigs aren't cool, but Josh Lucas finds a way to make it so.

E-cigs aren’t cool, but Josh Lucas finds a way to make it so.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)

It’s like they always say, “If you can’t make it in bed, you can’t make it in life.”

Jason Patric, Ben Stiller, and Aaron Eckhart play a trio of pals who regularly get together and talk about sex and/or women, but they all have their own personal lives that somehow find their ways of mashing together. Stiller is having problems with his gal-pal (Catherine Keener), who just so happens to be finding her own lust with a fellow lady (Natassja Kinski); Eckhart is also having similar problems with his woman (Amy Brenneman), minus the whole lesbian-angle; and Patric is just enjoying his life as a total, misogynistic stud that gets what he wants, how he wants it, and doesn’t give a flyin’ hoot about what anybody thinks.

Basically, he’s portraying me.

No matter what Neil LaBute may be talking about and whether or not you agree with what he says or not, there is still one element about each of his films that cannot be argued: They are incredibly well-written. Such as is the case here where not only do we get a plainer look and view inside the world of sexual-politics, but an even plainer one at the world of relationships, whether they be same-sex or opposite sex. Basically, what it seems like LaBute is trying to say here, is that all people, regardless of what different walks of life they may have come from, still can never, ever be alone and still walk through the motions of life, without ever really taking anything in or actually feeling genuine. Why? Well, because people, as a whole, are weak and hate it when they’re alone.

Yup, total lesbians.

Yup, total lesbians.

Maybe that’s me reading into the material, or maybe that’s exactly what LaBute’s actually going for, but either way, it’s all very bleak and depressing. Although, LaBute knows this and gives us something to hold onto with rich characters that may not be the nicest of people out on-display, but are still people that you feel like you could meet a book-store (whichever ones still exist), go out for coffee, chit-chat for a bit about life, love, and all of the finer things, end the conversation, exchange numbers, and never have contact with again. The reason for that being is just because they just seem too terrible or inhumane to surround yourself with.

Yet, they are all still watchable and easy to connect with, even if they don’t always seem like the ones with the biggest heart.

Take, for instance, Ben Stiller’s black hearted-role here as Jerry, may make it seem as if the guy is trying to stretch out his acting muscles and see what he can do when there’s more depth to his act than just goofy voices and faces, but it’s more or less the same act around, just this time: More cursing and screwing. Stiller does the usual awkward, nerdy-shtick and as much as it may work for his character, it’s still terribly annoying to have to watch, let alone listen to and it makes you feel utterly no sympathy for the guy whatsoever. Then again, that’s probably the point to begin with, so if anything, it’s more of a strength.

Aaron Eckhart, on the other hand, is doing something completely different from what we saw with him from In the Company of Men. Not only because he put on so much weight to really fit the role of the insecure, middle-aged man, but because he was so sympathetic and likable, whereas in Men, he was a total and complete dick you didn’t give a single crap about. Eckhart’s character is such a bone-headed doofuss, that you really do feel terrible for him and just want to give him a big old hug, just in hopes that he will at least put a smile on and be able to sustain an erection for his lady. Shows that the guy has some range as an actor, while also giving us a look at the nicest, most-endearing character of them all.

And trust me, that’s saying a lot.

The best out of the trio of dudes is Jason Patric, as the misogynistic, nasty lady-slayer (not literally, mind you) that seems to get along with virtually no one, yet, always finds people to be around him and even better, still finds gals in his bed. Patric is so amazing here because he always seems like the guy who really knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t care about whether or not you believe him on anything he says. He’s just doing him, and it’s great to not only see that in a character actor of high-prestige like Patric, but to also see that in a character in general. There are a couple of scenes where he really releases all hell on these people around him and not only does it make you feel as if he’s the type of guy you would never want to be stuck inside of an elevator with, but also the type of guy you don’t want in your life, mostly because he’ll just call you out on all of your dirty laundry. Patric is by-far the stand-out of this whole movie and completely owns every scene he has.

Outside of the men's locker room, problems never arise. But inside, that's where all the hell breaks loose.

Outside of the men’s locker room, problems never arise. But inside, that’s where all the hell breaks loose.

However, the guys seem to be the ones who get the most attention out of LaBute, as the gals don’t really seem to get all that much love, despite them all being pretty damn good with what they do. Catherine Keener’s character seems terribly bitchy and blunt, but also seems a bit like the voice of reason that you need in a movie like this, where not only everybody is at each other’s jugulars, but also where everybody seems to be talking a bit too much for sore ears. Playing her lesbo-lover is Natassja Kinski and is okay with what she’s given, but still seems one-dimensional and more or less just given a role to fulfill the non-stop quirk of there being a scene where almost every character goes up to a piece of art, asks the same questions, and gives their critique on it. Like Kinski, Amy Brenneman does fine with her role, but she’s almost too moody to be taken in as anyone, let alone an actual, three-dimensional character in a movie like this.

So, yeah. Here, it seems like maybe LaBute drops the ball a bit on presenting fully-layered women characters, as opposed to the men.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Consensus: Like most of LaBute’s flicks, Your Friends & Neighbors features a solid cast working with some mean, nasty and grueling stuff, even if not all of it feels as powerful as his debut.

8.5 / 10

This scene will make you want to go to the library. Yes, it's that awesome.

This scene will make you want to go to the library. That is, if you can find one.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Queen of Earth (2015)

Everybody’s got that one “crazy friend”.

Having drifted apart for many reasons (mostly personal), Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) and Ginny (Katharine Waterson) go out to a beach for the week to where they’ll relax, catch up with one another, and hopefully, heal some wounds. But what eventually starts out as a promising, fun-filled week, soon turns sour when Catherine starts acting out in some rather strange ways. For one, she’s talking to herself almost constantly. And then, she’s always turning each and every conversation she has with a person, into some sort of fight or argument that goes and ends nowhere, except with her bawling her eyes out soon afterwards. Though Ginny’s no peach, either, she’s still trying to get control of her best friend’s emotions, which only intensifies once Ginny’s neighbor (Patrick Fugit) comes around. As the rage within Catherine grows and grows larger by each and every day, it becomes all the more clear to those around her that she’s clearly suffering from some painful mental disorder, but what it is? Nobody knows and quite frankly, they aren’t let ruining their one week away from the rest of existence, get ruined because of it, either.



Queen of Earth, on paper, is as simple as you can get with a movie. Two friends, go to a beach house to get away from all the pains that exist in their real lives. But writer/director Alex Ross Perry, being the inspired creator that he is, decides to take it one step further in showing that there may be more dark and sinister stuff lurking somewhere underneath. Though there’s a lot of tension as is what with Catherine acting like a crazed-nut half of the time, the movie never makes itself clear as a “thriller”; I guess you could consider it one, but not the kind people pay huge buckets of cash to go out, see, and have a splendid time with.

Nope, Perry means to go a lot deeper than that and it’s actually a lot better than most of the “bigger” thrillers I see in theaters today.

Though it would be safe to write Queen of Earth as nothing more than a “Roman Polanski knock-off”, it’s also a bit unfair. Sure, Perry is clearly aiming for that same sort of brooding style that Polanski utilized oh so well in his early-career psychological thrillers, but to call it a “rip-off” of sorts, isn’t giving him as much credit since he works off of this style and adds a bit more to it. One way, you could say, is that he put the style in a modern-day setting, but even then, it’s still effective. Because the movie takes place in what seems to be this little stitch of land that’s far, far away from the rest of the real world, the movie feels a whole lot more claustrophobic and gives you the feeling that no matter how hard these character’s try to escape one another, there’s hardly anywhere for them to go.

And it’s worth noting that the movie is crazy intense, but it isn’t for the reasons you expect. There’s no guns, no car-chases, no brawl, and there is sure as hell no action-sequences; it’s literally just three-to-four people sitting in a room, arguing with one another long enough until the other decides to throw in the towel and go be pissed-off elsewhere. It sounds so incredibly boring, but while watching it, with Perry’s non-stop usage of the close-up, as well as these performer’s, it’s anything but.

Which brings me to my next point: Elisabeth Moss.

It’s no surprise to anyone that Moss is a good actress. For many, many years on Mad Men, Moss was able to show us the transition Peggy Olson had as a small-minded, cute and naive girl who eventually became her own boss, got the man she wanted, and, from what we can believe, everything worked out for and she was happy about. But, to be honest, she was a lot more restrained in that role and was never able to show people what she was truly made of and could do as an actress.

As Catherine, Moss is able to let loose like she’s never done before. It’s almost as if all those years of holding everything back for Matthew Weiner finally made its way out of her and it’s such a beauty to behold. Not because it’s fun to watch Moss cry, run around rooms, curse aloud, and give people the stink-eye, but because we all know it all comes from a thoughtful place. Perry doesn’t point the finger at Catherine and her antics, as much as he just holds up a magnifying-glass and allows us to see her for what she is; she may be a loony tune, but she’s one that it’s easy to feel bad for, because we know that a lot of this is out of her control.



Does that make her a perfect person? Nope, not at all. But just like in real life, nobody else is either.

Like, say, Katharine Weston’s Ginny who, believe it or not, has a worse attitude than Catherine. Through some very telling flashbacks, we see how Ginny would sometimes treat Catherine; sometimes, she was cruel, others, she was as sweet as could be. But the times that she was mean and ugly, are hard to get past as they show exactly what kind of person Ginny is: The jealous type.

Though a lot of people are going on and on about Moss’ performance, it’s worth noting that Waterston is quite good here, too. While it’s less showier role than Moss’, it’s one that still delivers on a lot of stern and scary standing that gives Ginny a lot of presence in scenes that you don’t even think she’s in. Together, the two are great; whether they’re fighting or loving one another, there’s always some neat little piece of info to pick-up on from their scenes together and it’s the true sign that these gals are true acting talents that deserve all the work they get thrown at them.

As for Patrick Fugit, his role in the film is where I started to get a little annoyed. Though Perry does take his time and care in portraying Catherine’s mental issues, those that are opposed to her don’t get the right amount of treatment. While Fugit is good as the neighbor who comes around and can’t help but piss Catherine off, the dude’s still very much “the dick character” and it plays-off a little too hard, rather than being tucked-in underneath. This is where the movie’s sense of subtlety started to fade away, and I soon realized that maybe Perry needed to take a little more time in writing how these other characters were.

But hey, that’s just me. He’s the one making movies with Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, and Patrick Fugit.

Not me.

Consensus: Thanks to two spectacular performances from Waterston and most definitely, Moss, Queen of Earth is a lot more compelling and eerie to watch than the small premise may have you think.

8 / 10

Ticked-off. As usual.

Ticked-off. As usual.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Z For Zachariah (2015)

Leave three attractive people alone on Earth, things happen to get a little wild.

After a nuclear blast hit the world and has practically wiped-out the human race, a few remain alive and are simply trying to survive. Ann (Margot Robbie) is a simple gal from the Southeast who still believes that there is a God, even despite all of the terrible events that have occurred in the past year or so. Though Ann thinks that she’s all alone in this vast landscape, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) unexpectedly walks into her life, leaving her now with a new companion to help continue living on in this world of theirs. Eventually, the two get so close to one another that they, for lack of a better term, start to fall in love, which scares both of them because they know that the other could very well as be as the last loves they ever have in their lives. Then, walks into a mysterious stranger by the name of Caleb (Chris Pine) who seems like he’s there to help Loomis and Ann survive, too. But then, things get very tense and all of a sudden, this fearsome foursome get into some very tense waters with one another.

If a dude I just met, starts sitting in a room like that, remind me to get rid of him. ASAP.

If a dude I just met, starts sitting in a room like that, remind me to get rid of him. ASAP.

This is as simple as you can possibly get with a premise and somehow, director Craig Zobel finds a way to make it a little more complicated than that. However, that is not at all a complaint because Zobel’s smart with how he makes this plot more than just three characters trying to live after what is, essentially, a nuclear holocaust. And no, it’s not just a movie where two characters constantly fight over who’s going to get the girl in the end; it’s more about continuing on your path and learning to live in a world where you’re all by yourself.

Sometimes, though, as this movie shows, that’s a lot easier said then done, especially when you add any sort of love into the equation.

But like I said before, Zobel doesn’t allow for the movie to go into any sort of direction that you expect it to. Sure, spit is swapped, feelings are spoken about, and tears fall down cheeks, but they don’t come at such a capacity that makes the movie seem like an melodramatic soap-opera. It’s more that the movie is busying studying these characters for who they are, what they are, and how they act when thrown into a horrid situation such as this, and what it does to the three of them as a whole. In that light, the movie’s a lot more interesting than your usual, post-apocalyptic tale that’s more about the brooding, tired and sad world surrounding its story.

Which isn’t to say that Zobel doesn’t shed at least some light on the treacherous land the Earth has become; there are many beautiful moments of mountains and land in the distance that give you an even larger idea of just how much of an impact this disaster left. And even though the movie initially makes it seem like it’s going to be one, huge depression-fest for an-hour-and-a-half, it soon turns the other cheek and turns out to be a bit more of a positive movie.

Albeit, a very tense one, but still, there are some smiles to be found.

What mostly helps Z For Zechariah to be a whole lot more compelling to watch, is the fact that it features three solid actors who, well, know how to make lemonade from lemons. Although, it is worth speaking about how odd this cast actually is and what a gamble it may have been for Zobel to get by on such names, placing them together in a movie, and see if all of their conflicting acting-styles/experience could gel together.

Needless to say, it does, but it’s just interesting what was thrown into Zobel’s mind that made him feel as if these three exact actors were perfect for their own respective characters? Maybe the idea that they come from different backgrounds and may not be the three exact people you’d expect in a movie together like this, is exactly what Zobel’s going for. After all, it’s the apocalypse and it’s not as if the apocalypse chooses who meets and who doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s just pure chance.

So anyway, yeah. The performances.

I'd sit at that dinner-table. If they'd let me, that is.

I’d sit at that dinner-table. If they’d let me, that is.

There’s no denying the fact that Chiwetel Ejiofor is a solid actor. Even before the dude nabbed an Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave, he’d been doing amazing work in so many other eclectic pieces of work and here, as Loomis, there’s no difference. As usual, Ejiofor is a powerful force on the screen and makes you question this guy’s attitude and actions every second of this movie. Does he want to solely just survive, regardless of he’s got someone by his side to do so? Or, does he want somebody to love and to hold in his life, once again? And if so, at what costs will he go to ensure that’s so? It’s a very intriguing character and the fact that Ejiofor doesn’t have to do much except stand there and stare to further that effect more, makes it all the more of a treat to watch.

Then, there’s Chris Pine who, thankfully, is starting to show off his true colors in a some darker roles as of late. Though Pine comes in about half-way through as Caleb, he still commands the screen as you never know what he’s up to, either. Clearly, he seems a whole lot more dangerous than Loomis, but why? Does he just want to get laid? Or, does he want to try and survive, too? It’s never made fully clear, and that’s one of the main reasons why Pine constantly takes this character into odd directions that are to see coming.

And last, but sure as hell not least, is Margot Robbie, playing the terribly simple and naive Ann. Because Robbie is so incredibly gorgeous and stunning in real life, it was a bit hard for me to fully take her in as this regular-class, Christian-gal, that sort of dresses like a 12-year-old boy, but Robbie made it work for me. She’s still great-looking, but the movie doesn’t play on that fact to create tension and make it so that these boys can continuously fight for her; she’s obviously the source of the attraction because she’s, well, all that there’s left of the female gender.

From what they know, that is.

But what makes Robbie’s character so good, as well as the film itself, is the fact that she’s a Christian who never seems to be preachy about it. Sure, she loves to go to the church her daddy built, pray at the dinner-table, and look to God whenever it is that she needs him most, but other than those instances, the movie never makes it clear that it has an agenda to be about Christianity, or if everything happens for a reason. The movie also never criticizes her character, or for anybody else for having a certain idea about God, or not; they’re sort of just trying to get by, regardless of if they have a cross in their bedroom or not.

And honestly, if hell gets too crowded and zombies begin to walk the Earth, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Consensus: Though its thin on certain details, Z For Zechariah gets by solely on the strong trio of leads, as well as the fact that Zobel never allows for his film to get conventional or obvious in any way.

8 / 10

Yep, I'd still tap that. Applies all three of them, too.

No matter how much dirt you throw on them, I’d still tap.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

American Splendor (2003)

Believe it or not, Stan Lee isn’t the only guy who writes comics.

Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) works a dead-end job as a file clerk, his second wife leaves him, and he has a debilitating vocal impediment. The two things that keep him going are his collections of jazz records and comic books. After becoming friends with animator Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), Harvey finds himself inspired enough to write his own type of comic book, which turn out to be just the depressing, yet amusing accounts of his everyday life.

Whenever people hear of a comic book movie being made, they automatically shoot their minds to Marvel and think of names like Iron Man, or the Hulk, or Captain America, or whoever gets the next big-screen adaptation. But hardly do we ever get to see the sort of comic book movies that are made for people who could care less about superheros and all of those wonderful tales of fantasy. Sometimes, comic books have the opportunity to hit closer to home and it’s this fact, this reality that American Splendor hits hard each and every second it gets.

He's perfect.

He’s perfect.

Of course, in a bit more depressed manner, but still. It’s a little more refreshing than watching another Marvel flick.

Co-writers and directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini know that they’re working with simple material here, so it makes sense that they’d add a little comic book touch to the look and make it feel as if we are looking at an actual comic book on the screen. It doesn’t happen all of the time, because that would just get gimmicky after awhile, but the way they do use it when needed, works and puts you in the mind-set of how this guy looked at the world through his own eyes.

But the style isn’t just what works, as there’s a whole lot of interesting scenes where we actually see the real Harvey Pekar early on, through interviews, and even see all of the other real people in his life as well, show up every once and awhile. It’s a bit surreal at first, considering we are essentially watching a movie about the real life story of these people, they know it, and are standing there just giving their input when needed. It’s definitely weird, but after awhile, seems pretty cool as it looks like Berman and Pulcini both wanted to keep this story as close to the real thing as possible, so what better way than having the real people themselves, you know?

Honestly though, American Splendor is as interesting as it is, all because of the subject at the center: Harvey Pekar. There’s no way of dancing around that fact.

What’s interesting about Pekar is that, other than the fact that he’s a pretty miserable dude, there’s a lot more to him than just that. Does he know it? Not really, but that’s where the intrigue is; while everybody looks at him as a lovable, self-loathsome loner, he doesn’t even know it, think about it, or better yet, give a hoot. This is especially evident in how he describes his comic book creations, the stories he writes about, and how he allows them to approach life, the way in which he sees it. To him, it’s just his own thoughts and opinions getting scribbled onto a piece of paper – whether hundreds of people see it or not, is totally their call.

But then, what makes Pekar even more of engaging figure here is that he’s played by the one and only Paul Giamatti himself. Once again, Giamatti seems to be playing his “kvetching, neurotic Jewish guy”-role as we usually see in his films, but there’s more to that than just being a miserable sad-sack. Pekar seems like the perfect role for Giamatti cause not only does the guy have a general distaste for a lot of what happens throughout his day, but when he starts to realize the happiness that’s out there, it’s very nice to see and Giamatti handles it so well. In fact, when Pekar himself shows up on-screen, it’s almost hard to tell them totally apart. Whatever Giamatti himself had to do to prepare for this role, clearly paid-off as he got down every mannerism that Pekar has, wonderfully.

She's perfect.

She’s perfect.

Though, there is more going on here than just Giamatti’s great portrayal of Pekar, as Hope Davis does a charming job as Pekar’s third wife, Joyce Brabner. Because the real-life couple of Joyce and Harvey is so odd and unique in its smallest details, Davis and Giamatti must have really had to be hard-at-work to ensure that they got everything down perfectly between the two; not just when they’re together on-screen, but how their own respective characters grow throughout the movie. Cause obviously, they are their own person, but together, they feel oh so perfectly united, that it’s hard to imagine either one of their miserable selves being with anybody else.

Basically, they were stuck together, forever. Till death did them part and I couldn’t had been any happier for them.

So if anything, American Splendor not only serves a fine send-up of all the superhero/comic book movies that seem to flood the airwaves everywhere you look nowadays, but a touching tribute to the legend of Harvey Pekar. While some may have a problem with the fact he was so ticked-off and angry for no apparent reasons whatsoever, there’s still some hope and humanity to be found in that. Cause as hard as it may be to stay happy all throughout your life, it must be even more incredibly difficult to stay as mad, either.

So here’s to you, Harvey. Rest well. And smile for a damn change!

Consensus: Though it has style to boot, what makes American Splendor so lovely is how it approaches life the same way as Harvey Pekar himself did: Not quite sure what to make of it, but couldn’t wait to find out, even if the results didn’t always make him the happiest bee in the hive.

8.5 / 10

Together, match made in heaven.

Together, match made in heaven.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Secret spy agents have never been so cheeky!

Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is a post-WWII antiquities smuggler who gets recruited by the CIA to help catch the baddies and put himself in dangerous positions that no pencil-pusher would ever even dream of being caught in. His latest mission, however, may test him to his utter limits. An East German mechanic by the name of Gaby (Alicia Vikander), has a father who was a former rocket scientist for the Nazis and may be currently developing a nuclear bomb for a bunch of shady fascists. Because the mission itself is so complex, Solo’s boss (Jared Harris) assigns him to work with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer); somebody Solo already has a bit of a rivalry with as is. This leads to constant tension and bragging between the two where they sometimes find that they are at odds with one another, rather than with the enemy. But while Solo is busy fighting off whatever pretty honey that comes his way, Kuryakin is trying his hardest to not show off any sort of emotional feelings for anyone, especially not for Gaby, who has now been assigned to use cover as his fiancee. Will all of these personal problems get in the way of the mission? Or will Kuryakin, Solo and Gaby combine their forces and beat the villains, so that all us citizens can live a happy, healthy, and care-free life?

Still not Kristin Scott Thomas, even though my brain keeps making me think so.

Still not Kristin Scott Thomas, even though my brain keeps making me think so.

Love him, hate him, don’t care for him, or hell, don’t even know who he is other than the dude who married Madonna, Guy Ritchie’s got style. And no, I’m not talking about the way he dresses or acts in real life – I mean the movies that he makes. While some may get tired and bored of his energetic and frenetic style, to me, Ritchie feels like the kind of director we’re very lucky to have. None of his movies (even his really terrible ones), can be called “horrid”, “stupid”, and “annoying”, but they can’t be called “dull”. This is because Ritchie refuses to let a movie of his get made without some form of color or fun thrown into the proceedings.

And if anything, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the perfect example of this.

What makes me most happy about U.N.C.L.E. is that it’s the kind of action-thriller that likes to have fun. What was that word? “Fun”? In a current action-thriller, you say? Well, funny that you may ask because yes, U.N.C.L.E. is indeed a fun movie that doesn’t try to frown or grim too much; more or less, it’s concerned with kicking-ass, stunts, guns, babes, booze, spy-gadgets, fancy cars, and most of all, humor.

In today’s day and age where Bond seems to be losing his smirk as each and every movie goes by, or where every hero’s trying to be the next Bourne, U.N.C.L.E.‘s characters all have lovely personalities, seem to have some bit of fun in their systems and, most importantly, have a good joke to end a sentence on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all jokes and play for Ritchie’s characters here, however, even when they do get serious and melodramatic, it isn’t at the high cost of the movie where all of the exciting and fun times are over and now we have to get all stern and cold.

Ritchie doesn’t care for those kinds of thrillers and it’s way U.N.C.L.E. works as well as it does.

Some of this has to do with the fact that the setting (post-WWII, Cold War-era) just screams white-blooded nostalgia right at you, but a good portion has to do with the fact that Ritchie seems interested in this story all around. After all, it’s his fault that a TV show from the 60’s is being brought to the screen where half of the audience who watched that original show may not be alive, or even remember it, so if he screws this up, it’s off with his head. But Ritchie seems absolutely enthused to be giving these locations, these characters, and this decade the light of day and it’s hard to not get caught up in all the good vibes going around.

After all, it’s getting to the end of the summer, so it’s better to get out with a happy, healthy bang, rather than a down-beat, depressed and down-trodden whimper like some of these blockbusters have been this summer.

But perhaps the best thing about U.N.C.L.E., isn’t that it’s filled with plenty of cheeky humor, or impressive set-pieces, but is that it makes you want to see more of these characters in whatever the next adventure it is that they’re getting involved with. While Henry Cavill may be seen as Superman for quite some time, he’s very charming here as Napoleon Solo – who is basically Bond, except that he’s got a perfect chin, hair, body, and cheeks that makes you wonder if Ritchie too thinks this guy’s handsome as hell, too. This gives me hope that whatever side-projects Cavill decides to do away from being Kal-El, that he chooses to take ones that test him as an actor a bit, but also show what his strengths are as an actor.

Doesn't get anymore British than him.

Doesn’t get anymore British than him.

Same goes for Armie Hammer who, after the Social Network, hasn’t had the most lovely career. None of that really has to do with him, because even the crappy movies he participated in, he was at least fine in them, but there is something to be said for a person when they just become a one-hit wonder and you wonder whether or not they’ve actually got some sort of acting-skill in their soul, or are they just another good-looking. In Hammer’s case, he’s definitely the later, but here, he shows that he’s got skills as an actor and is at least able to make this stiff character funny and engaging to watch.

Of course, the whole joke surrounding him is that he’s all too serious and emotionless for his own good, but what Hammer does well, is that he shows that there’s more to this character than just what’s presented on the surface. This is what makes the later-portion of this movie actually interesting, because Hammer and Alicia Vikander have good chemistry between one another where it seems like their characters would be perfect as partners in life, as well as in work. It should be noted that Vikander is great here, too, and is another female character we get this summer that seems like she’s there as nothing else but just a damsel-in-distress, but soon shows her true colors and turns out to be smarter than her male counterparts.

But I’ll save my praise for Vikander for a later-time, considering she’s got plenty of more movies coming around the bend.

Consensus: Stylish, colorful, and whimsical, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn’t just an entertaining action-thriller, but one that signals why Guy Ritchie is one of the better directors we have working today; he just needs to be given better material to work with.

8 / 10

Please, movie audiences: Let us see these three again.

Please, movie audiences: Let us see these three again.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Snatch (2001)

SnatchposterDoes anybody even know what a “pikey” is in the first place?

Set in the London criminal underworld, two stories are unfolding that, more often than not, just so happen to connect or intervene with one another. One plot deals with the search for a stolen diamond, whereas the other with a small-time boxing promoter named Turkish (Jason Statham) who finds himself under the thumb of a ruthless gangster known as Brick Top (Alan Ford). Of course, there is more than just meets the eye with this premise as many happenings and characters find themselves in-and-out of the story.

If you’ve seen one movie of Guy Ritchie’s, you’ve mostly seen them all. In ways, that’s a good thing, but often times, it can feel as if it’s a tad bit repetitive and over-done. But that’s not me talking, as I’ve come to appreciate the kind of style the dude’s worked with over the years and how it’s single-handedly help save some of his movies from being bore-fests.

Except for Swept Away. There was no way of saving that movie.

Who needs Apollo Creed, when you've got two drunk Irish morons.

Who needs Apollo Creed, when you’ve got two drunk Irish morons.

What Ritchie does so well, is style; it’s the same type of hip, kinetic, and goofy style that we saw in his earlier flicks but who cares? If it works, it works. Ritchie keeps the plot moving in an entertaining fashion, but at the same time, still keeps these plot-lines interesting. This makes it all the more with it when they all seem to converge with one another and make Ritchie’s writing a whole heck of a lot smarter.

Most of that smartness comes from the whole idea of this flick is just to be a big goofy take on the crime-noir genre by substituting all of those hard, mean characters, with lovable, colorful ones that we all actually care about. However, don’t have you think that Ritchie softens up because of this. Instead he lets all of the violence happen as if it normally would in any other film of this genre and it’s just a whole bunch of fun to watch, even if you do know what’s going to happen next.

Also, subtitles may definitely help at certain times, too.

I don’t know what it is about Ritchie piss so many people off because this guy really seems like he’s having a ball when it comes to him making movies. Does he have an energetic style that can sometimes be straight in your face? Yeah, but does that neccessarily make him a bad director? I guess it all depends on how you feel about watching movies. Either you want a slow human-drama about life and love in the world we live in, or you want a fast-paced, suspenseful, and wild gangster flick that takes no prisoners and makes no apologies for calling each other that dreaded “c-word”.

Yup. Totally not crazy.

Yup. Totally not crazy.

My problem with this film just lies within the fact that I think Ritchie does not stray far away from what he did with his debut and that’s sort of annoying, considering it seems a bit cheap once you think about it. Take for instance, Vinnie Jones’ character. Jones, as we all know and love, is basically type-cast as this wild, insane, and freakishly scary a-hole that would be able to rip your heart out with his teeth. Those are the types of roles the guy gets nowadays and without Ritchie, he wouldn’t have ever been known far-beyond his Rugby days. Therefore, it seems like Ritchie felt the need to not only place a same type of character as that in this movie, but also give Jones the same exact role that sort of comes off as lazy and a bit unoriginal in terms of casting. There’s a couple of other actors and characters here that seem like carbon-copies of the ones from Lock, but Jones was the one who really stood-out for me as the laziest of all, even though he kicked plenty of arse, as usual.

But even besides that, Jones is still good here. And the same goes with everybody else who shows up, utilizing their talents as actors for what would be ultimate challenging of handling Ritchie’s sense of dialogue. Though they may seem like odd choices at first, the likes of Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, and Rade Serbedzija, all do perfectly fine here and show that they’re charming enough to carry along the movie, even if Ritchie’s dialogue may sometimes get in the way of his actors.

However, their not prepared for the most inspired casting decision of this whole flick.

Brad Pitt as the illiterate “pikey” Micky O’Neill, may have seemed crazy, but eventually, you wonder why anybody would have ever thought that. Pitt’s whole act in this flick is to not make any sense no matter what he mumbles, but still be able to get what he’s saying across by the look on his face and the body language he displays. Maybe that’s a bit too much of a detailed study for a character that is first shown taking a dump right in front of his home, but Pitt nails it and makes every piece of dialogue he mutters out hilarious. So hilarious in fact, that the Netflix subtitles couldn’t even decipher what the hell he was saying but that was the point! It was funny, it made me laugh, and made me see what types of roles Pitt can do, and still take total control over even if he isn’t the main star of the show. Everybody else here, kicks some fine-piece of arse that’s worth mentioning but to be honest, just go out and see the ensemble for yourself. They are all so perfect together and you wonder how Ritchie was able to get them all to be in the same freakin’ movie in the first place.

Consensus: Though we’ve seen this style done before, Snatch still utilizes a lot of Ritchie’s strengths as both a writer, as well as a director.

8.5 / 10



Photos Courtesy of: Movie Room Reviews

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Scientology be damned when Ethan Hunt is on the case!

Now that the IMF has been disbanded for the fact that they are considered unreliable and dangerous, superstar agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is forced to go rogue. However, Ethan believes that he has got another mission left in him that will take him to ultra shady group that is “the Syndicate”. Ethan has an idea that the Syndicate is apparently up to no good and is planning on wiping out the entire globe, but in order to stop this from happening, he needs to get to the head of the group (Sean Harris) – which, considering how top-notch and professional this group is, is a lot easier said then done. But Ethan is inspired enough to take matters into his own hands, even if that means bringing some of his old friends and colleagues around one more time, even if that means that their jobs will be at-stake in doing so. However, another problem standing in Ethan’s way is a fellow agent by the name of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who he isn’t quite sure of which side she’s actually on. Which not only spells problems for Ethan’s mission, but also his heart that seems to be taken a bit with this mysterious lady.

Unlike most movie franchises out there, each installment of Mission: Impossible feels as if they are their own kind of movie, rather than just a carbon-copy of the one that came before it. With the first, we got Brian De Palma’s version of Hitchockian Bond movie, filled with all sorts of gadgets, twists and turns; in the second, we got John Woo’s wild and crazy action-thriller, chock full of explosions, fire, and yes, even doves; with the third movie, we got another one of J.J. Abrams’ frenetic kind of thrillers that seemed so intense, that they were about to blow-up from all the intensity; and then, with the fourth movie, we got Brad Bird’s version that hearkened back to the glory days of old school blockbusters, where times were a lot simpler then. Now, with the fourth movie, as being directed by Christopher McQuarrie, we get a slightly gritty-take on the Mission: Impossible story, which is what most people know McQuarrie to do well with.

Look out, Bourne!

Look out, Bourne!

However, at the same time, it’s still a solid action-thriller in its own right, regardless of if it follows some sort of style-pattern. Sometimes, all you need is a whole heck of a lot of action and fun thrown into your sometimes confusing story, just to make sure that everything works out as fine as can be. The Mission: Impossible movies, from what it seems, will continue to last on for another couple of years (so long as Cruise continues to sign-up for them), and honestly, I’m fine with that; it’s constantly finding new and interesting ways to re-invent itself, pick up some neat tricks along the way, and continue to set the bar for action-thrillers in its same vein.

Sort of like the Fast and Furious franchise, except for the kind of crowd who prefers wine, as opposed to Colt 45.

And in no way is that an insult to either groups of these movies; not only are those franchise’s movies fun, but they can be enjoyed by practically anyone who decides to check them out and see what they’re working with. You don’t need to see all of the Fast and Furious movies to enjoy just one, just like you don’t need to do the same for these Mission: Impossible movies – they sort of just work on their own. That’s how most action movies should be, and while it sounds incredibly easy, it’s a whole different story when watching a bad thriller and realizing that the action stinks, the story stinks, and basically, just everything else about it stinks.

If you can’t do an action movie right, then what can you do?!?

Because even though these movies have something of a plot to work with, it’s really just about the set-pieces and how far they can keep the audiences invested, regardless of how far-fetched they can get. This happens many of times in Rogue Nation, where we see scenes of Hunt holding his breath underwater for nearly three minutes straight, dangle above a French opera without a single person taking notice, or, as famously-known, hang on quite loosely to an airplane as its taking air. There’s plenty more where these examples come from, and while they may all sound ridiculous, they’re still a whole bunch of fun to sit through, watch, and think of what’s going to happen next; even if, you know, it’s already fully well-known what’s going to happen to some of these characters by the end of the tale.

There's definitely more than a little Captain in her.

There’s definitely more than a little Captain in her.

And even though Rogue Nation may be a bit of a step-back for the franchise (especially after the fantastic and very surprising Ghost Protocol), it still is, once again, a very solid action-thriller. It gets just about all of the beats right in terms of the action-department, is just long enough to not overstay its welcome, and seems like it’s still staying true to its heart by giving us the character moments in between all of the running around and explosions to make things seem a whole lot more human for the meantime. Do we really need them? Not really, but they’re fine to fall back on if you need to take a chill pill and just watch as a bunch of people talk to one another, spouting all sorts of exposition that don’t mean much else other than just, “We need to catch the bad guy and this is how we do it”.

That’s literally what every line of dialogue in Rogue Nation ends up leading towards, but there are a few surprises to be found along the way.

But the surprises don’t necessarily come from the likes of Tom Cruise, or Jeremy Renner, or Simon Pegg, or Ving Rhames, or even Alec Baldwin – they’re all fine, it’s just that who they’re playing (with the exception of newcomer Baldwin), has been done before and doesn’t feel like any sort of variation. They’re are all perfectly serviceable in a movie that’s more or less concerned with how deep of a situation it can throw its hero into, only to allow for him to break out of it in some miraculous way, nearly ten minutes later.

Nope, the real surprise of this cast comes from the likes of Rebecca Ferguson, someone I haven’t seen before, but here’s to hoping that now, that’ll change. Ferguson not only acts the part of a bad-ass, femme fatale that may or may not be playing both sides at the same time, but also looks like it, too. Much has already been said about how the Ferguson’s image is getting sexualized by the advertising for this here movie, but honestly, I think it works in her favor. Not only is Ferguson gorgeous, she’s also in incredible shape to where when you see her riding a motorcycle in tight leather, you don’t just automatically think of how hot she looks, it’s more about how much she could probably kick your ass. Also, the fact that Ferguson is something of an unknown actress to most of the mainstream media, works in her character’s favor as she could literally go anyway; there’s no pre-made clause that states she has to be the hero at the end, or gets the man. She’s not a huge actor just yet, so therefore, the mystery stays in her favor.

Although, let’s hope that she doesn’t continue to stay a mystery for too long.

Consensus: Rogue Nation is another exciting crowd-pleaser to add to the Mission: Impossible name, even if it’s not nearly the best the franchise has had to offer.

8 / 10

Never forget.

Never forget.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Danny Collins (2015)

John Lennon once tried to reach out to me, too. Then, I woke up.

Danny Collins (Al Pacino) feels as if he’s been on top of the music world for as long as he can remember. He’s still on-tour, making money, throwing parties, and set to be married to a much younger woman. Despite the fact that Danny hasn’t written any new music in nearly a decade, he’s happy enough with himself and his career that he doesn’t care too much about what the nay-sayers may be spouting about. That all begins to change one day, however, when his manager (Christopher Plummer) hands him a letter written in 1971 by John Lennon, asking that Danny come visit him and Yoko Ono to make music and see what sort of chemistry they’ve got between one another. Danny now feels like his career needs a reboot, with him dropping out of his latest tour, cancelling his engagement, and going back to visit the son (Bobby Cannavale), the daughter-in-law (Jennifer Garner), and granddaughter (Giselle Eisenberg) that he never got a chance to know. However, it’s not going to be so easy for Danny to come back into their lives, especially considering that he’s been out of them for quite some time, which was all his doing in the first place.

Definitely not a Motel 6.

Definitely not a Motel 6.

You can tell exactly where Danny Collins is going to go right from the start. It’s so obviously calculated and written in a way that, even if you haven’t seen a single movie ever made, you’d still know what’s going to happen, when, where, and why. There’s many movies I’ve seen where there’s been hardly any surprises to be found within the plot itself, yet, by the same token, there’s little pieces of honest insight to be found that the formula can get tooled around with enough to where it doesn’t matter; sometimes, you just need a little shake-up here and there.

And that’s exactly what Dan Fogelman does here.

While Fogelman may be a little too pleased with himself and the way he’s written these characters, the way in how he keeps each and every character interesting is what really surprises. You know that Pacino’s Collins is going to be a self-centered sham that thinks the best way to cope with past hurt and pain, is to buy people nice, pretty and shiny things, but there’s more to him than that. And you’d think the same thing with Garner’s character, who honestly seems like she’d be so against Collins to begin with (and with good reason), but we soon realize and find out more about her that makes it seem like she too wants Danny back in her family’s life, even if she knows it will all fall apart eventually.

Everything and everyone, initially, seems so written in a way that makes it seem as if they’re just going to be types in this conventional plot, but because they’re given new shadings here and there courtesy of Fogelman, they make the plot seem a tad different. Don’t get me wrong, what you can expect to happen at the end, most definitely will, but it’s not all beautiful and perfect; these characters are still definitely hurt from something and Fogelman doesn’t forget about what makes them all tick. This is Fogelman’s first time being both behind the writer’s desk as well as the camera, and I have to say, the guy’s impressed me here. While he’s not doing anything necessarily ground-breaking as a director, he keeps a nice pace to where we get just the right amount of details of these characters and what makes them breathe, while also feeling like we’re leading to something worth sitting by.

Every family needs a little helping-hand here and there. Even the picture perfect ones.

Every family needs a little helping-hand here and there. Even the picture perfect ones.

Sounds obvious, I know, but when you take into consideration many other movies, it’s nice to feel as if every scene on-display has a purpose and isn’t just thrown in there so we can get random scenes of actors acting actor-ly.

But where Danny Collins really excels, is with the cast who, let’s be honest, had they not all been cast in their own, respective roles, wouldn’t have allowed this movie to work as well as it most definitely does. Danny Collins, the character, may seem like one that Al Pacino has played many, many times before, but what he does so well here is that he cools down all of the wild and wacky eccentrics we’re used to seeing Pacino put-on full-display. The only time that he totally mucks it up, is when he’s acting as Danny Collins, the celebrity figure – every other chance he gets to show that there’s more to him than just a presence on the stage, is when he’s with those he wants to surround himself with. Sure, he’s still a bit of a ham, but he’s a sympathetic one that uses his lovely charms to make those around him happier and feel better about themselves. And as expected, Pacino is great at displaying every ounce of humanity within this character.

However, Pacino gets some solid assistance from the great supporting cast. Bobby Cannavale fits perfectly as Danny’s estranged son who is going through his own personal problems, yet, still seems like he wants to connect with his dad despite all of the problems he’s been through over the years; Jennifer Garner is sweet and subtle as the wife that doesn’t want to control too much of what happens between Danny and her husband, yet, also doesn’t want it all to fall apart like before; Christopher Plummer is a great source of humor here as Danny’s manager, but also has a sweet side to him that makes it easy to see why he and Danny have been together for so very long; and Annete Benning, despite seeming like a total stuck-up gal in the earlier portions of this movie, shows that she’s got more of a fun and zany side to her that’s perfectly compatible with Collins’. And heck, even Josh Peck’s pretty good here.

Now, there’s something you don’t see every day!

Consensus: Everything about Danny Collins‘ plot is predictable, but there’s a certain amount of heart and sweetness guiding it along, even despite the ensemble’s fantastic work.

8 / 10

Just imagine Rod Stewart, as portrayed by Al Pacino and there you have him: Danny Collins.

Just imagine Rod Stewart, as portrayed by Al Pacino and there you have him: Danny Collins.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Creep (2015)

Yes, he’s definitely a weirdo.

Small-time film-maker Aaron (Patrick Brice) is willing to do whatever sort of work for whatever amount of money; he’s like most young, aspiring directors out there who are just trying to survive on anything that comes their way. Whether it’s weird or not, at least Aaron is getting a paying gig and to him, it’s the most exciting day of his life, where all sorts of possibilities are up in there. All of the excitement goes away, however, when Aaron meets his subject – a man by the name of Josef (Mark Duplass) who claims to have a malignant tumor, for which he was given about two-to-three months left to live. Not to mention, Josef also has a wife and new baby on the way, which is why he wants Aaron to follow him for this whole day, filming his each and every move, so that one day, his child can see just what kind of guy its daddy was. And while things start off a bit oddly between the two, it eventually escalates into something that Aaron was not at all expecting and doesn’t know how to deal with it.

How can you say "get outta here" to a face like that? Even as deranged as it may seem to be?

How can you say “get outta here” to a face like that? Even as deranged as it may seem to be?

Though some may already see the word “found-footage” being used an awful lot in sentences about Creep, have no fear, because the movie’s a whole lot better than the genre it plays around in. Which isn’t all that of a surprise considering we know that neither Patrick Brice (the Overnight), nor especially Mark Duplass (every indie dramedy that you’ve ever loved) wouldn’t ever align themselves with something as plain and as generic as the found-footage genre and do nothing with it. That isn’t to say Creep doesn’t fall for the occasional, manipulative jump-scare to put us back into our seats whenever we get too comfy and cozy thinking this is going to be some sort of character-drama, but it’s done so in such a way that the scariness of the material isn’t the actual “boo”, it’s more of what lies behind the said boo.

Make any sense? If not, please do let me explain.

What Brice seems to be saying with Creep is that the way we humans in society connect with one another nowadays, is strictly through technology/internet. Sure, Catfish practically said the same message many years ago in an effective manner (even if the message has gotten blurred over the years), but Brice and Duplass both deliver the message in such a way that makes it feel all the more effective; while Josef is easily a character we could dismiss as nothing more than a plain and simple weirdo, the movie also shows that maybe he’s a weirdo because that’s the way the world has manufactured him as. He lives for that connection with somebody, and when he doesn’t get it, he overreacts like a spoiled child would – that’s if the spoiled child had some homicidal ideas floating around in his head. But either way, this character of Josef is most definitely a product of this generation, where there’s hardly any room whatsoever for privacy, or general human connection.

It’s all, as they say, “up in the cloud”.

And as Josef, Duplass, as expected, is terrific. Because Josef isn’t just a crazed dude who clearly has huge problems, Duplass gets a chance to show-off different skills we haven’t seen him utilize before. Josef’s nature is so unpredictable and off-putting, that you never quite know where he’s going to go next, what he’s going to say, or even where he’s going to show up to scare Aaron. His overly touchy feely manner is definitely strange at first, but then it starts to turn deadly soon later, and this is where Duplass really excels at showing a character we have no full clue about and we sort of want to know more of. That’s not to say that we ever get to liking this character, but just like how Aaron feels, there’s something intricately sad and vulnerable about Josef that’s hard to resist and dismiss as “evil”.

Although Brice may not be the best actor out there and doesn’t always handle this material well when he definitely should, he does a fine enough job of sitting off to the side so that Duplass can steal the movie away from him. Because as we learn early on, this whole movie is meant to be about Josef and Josef only, everything else that comes with it, is just the final product of what getting to know and be around Josef is like. In other words, it’s absolutely dangerous and terrifying, but because Aaron seems like a relatively smart dude who isn’t always fooled easily, it’s safe to follow behind him. He makes some dumb decisions along the way, but honestly, what horror movie-protagonist doesn’t?

Someone find me that mask for Halloween. Gotta be a dollar store around here somewhere.

Someone find me that mask for Halloween. Gotta be a dollar store around somewhere.

Sidney Prescott doesn’t count!

But what ultimately puts Creep a step above most of the found-footage horror bull-crap we seen thrown at us just about every other month, is that it seems to understand why a genre like this can still work. At times, it’s easy to see where this plot is going and it makes you wonder if it was or wasn’t intentional in the first place, but there are a few nice twists and turns that not only keep this movie smart, but quite fun. Though the first hour is full of all sorts of talking and odd moments that come out of nowhere, after such is when there’s some thrills and chills to be had.

However, that’s not to say that they’re manipulative in any sort of way. Brice takes his time with allowing for his tension to build up and up and up, so that when the final one-two punch does eventually come around and hit us square in the face, it leaves a lasting impression. That’s what we need more with our horror movies – lasting impressions. Sure, some horror movies like to go out on a bang, but how many times do you feel as if you’ve been tortured and toyed around with in a good way that makes you think about what it is that you just went through long after? I can’t think of many, which is probably why Creep is definitely deserving of a watch.

Consensus: While it may seem to go down some predictable routes, Creep still gets the job done with the smart chills, twists, and message about the way our world works, even if it may get lost over some people’s head when all is said and done.

8 / 10

Always need a loving embrace before the deadly weapons come out.

Always need a loving embrace before the deadly weapons come out.

Photos Courtesy of: Logan Bushey

Trainwreck (2015)

There’s more to life than booze. Like pot.

When she was younger, Amy (Amy Schumer) was always told by her dad (Colin Quinn) that monogamy is nearly impossible. Many years later, she’s seem to taken that note of advice to heart, where mostly every other night, she spends it drinking, smoking, partying, and going home with some guy that she doesn’t even remember the next morning. Her sister (Brie Larson) has turned out for the best with her husband (Mike Birbiglia) and step-son, but Amy just can’t seem to bring herself to want and/or be happy with those sorts of things – she’s already too happy enjoying her independence. That all begins to change, however, when Amy’s assigned a story for her magazine on a sports doctor, Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Though it’s not necessarily smart for a journalist to get involved with her subject, Amy just can’t help herself one night and sooner than later, realizes that she’s in something that she’s always fought so hard against: A relationship. But because Amy is so commitment-phobic, she’s finding it hard to not let her personal issues get in the way of something beautiful she and Aaron could have, even if he too struggles with it from time to time.

It’s hard to make a good romantic comedy nowadays. Sure, a movie can try its hardest to spin the genre on the tops of its head so many times, in so many fancy ways, that even the most downbeat and depressed person can find something to be happy about. But sometimes, what ultimately ends up happening is that the movie turns out to be a pretentious piece of bull that’s trying so hard to please you in an ironic way, that it’s downright annoying. I’ve seen many rom-coms in my life that have been different enough to work (500 Days of Summer), I’ve seen many that try to be hip and cool, but just turn out to be gag-inducing (plenty of indies), and that will probably never change.

Cheers up, ladies. You deserve it.

Cheers up, ladies. You deserve it.

However, there’s no denying that Trainwreck‘s a good rom-com.

Even in today’s day and age.

What Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow both do perfectly together here is that they blend their own certain styles of humor that it feels like one, cohesive whole, rather than just a splattering of ideas thrown at the wall like spaghetti. Schumer actually wrote this script and while most of it may definitely seem like the normal kind of banter we expect from Apatow projects, it’s surprisingly mostly coming from Schumer’s pen, paper, and mind. Sure, there’s definitely some improv to be found among the talents on-display here, however, Trainwreck is Amy Schumer’s baby, through and through, and there’s nobody who can get in the way of that.

Which isn’t to say that Judd Apatow tries to sneak in and take it all away from her – in fact, it’s all quite the opposite. Apatow allows for there to be many moments dedicated solely to just Schumer herself, acting, being charming, and building this character, rather than relying on non-stop scenes of people just rambling on and on about whatever comes to their mind first. Though this aspect of Apatow’s movies can still illicit laughs, here, it would have mostly felt unnecessary and random.

Because at the center of Trainwreck, there’s this fully-realized and developed female character who feels as if she was written in a smart way that she’s not only relateable to anyone out there, but still human enough to not be judged as harshly as she herself may want you to. That the movie doesn’t slut-shame Amy’s character, nor make her forget about the errors of her ways, proves that Schumer set out to make a human, rather than just a character that can stand in while everyone around her cracks jokes and moves the story right on along. Like I’ve said before, it’s totally Schumer’s movie and it’s better off because of it – she never forgets what’s driving this story, nor does she ever let herself take over the screen too much.

Which is to say, that when she’s letting others deliver the funny, they more than do so.

You’d think that with a cast as varied and nuts as Trainwreck, that there’d most definitely be some weak-spots to be found among the group, but somehow, that doesn’t happen. Every performer who shows up is more than up to the task of delivering the funny, making their presence known, and then leaving to let the movie get on with itself. And the reason why I used the word “performer” is because it’s a little hard to classify a group of actors, when you’re talking about the likes of John Cena, or Lebron James, or even Amar’e Stoudemire; okay maybe Cena’s more believable as an “actor”, considering his profession, but as for the other two, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen either show-off their thespian skills before.

However, both of them, as well as plenty of others are pitch perfect with their comedy. Especially James, who comes off like the sassy best-friend type that these kinds of movies seem to have, but instead, because it’s Lebron James and the writing’s a whole lot more knowing, it never comes off like a conceit. Instead, it just comes off as Lebron James being very funny in a role that, believe it or not, was written perfectly for him. Sure, he’s playing a heightened version of himself, but at least he can actually “play” around in the first place, yuck it up, and not take himself at all too seriously.

Kobe's not this charming. Trust me.

Kobe’s not this charming. Trust me.

Good for him, because who knows? When that basketball career of his dries up, there may be a bigger, brighter future out there for him in front of the camera.

So long as he doesn’t get stuck with starring in a Kazaam remake.

Anyway, Lebron’s not the only one who gets a chance to shine and show the comedy-world what they are capable of doing, and why you can depend on them some more in the future. Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller (lovely little We Need to Talk About Kevin reunion, if there ever was one), Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Dave Attell, Marisa Tomei, Jon Glaser, Method Man, Daniel Radcliffe, and 100-year-old Norman Lloyd, among others, may or may not seem like the perfect choices for your rom-com, but they somehow assert themselves well enough here that they prove why they are. As usual with Apatow’s movies, some roles tend to lean more on the excessive side (Matthew Broderick, Marv Albert and Chris Evert), whereas other go unseen (Barkhad Abdi and Jim Norton were apparently cast), but there’s no denying that Apatow’s able to draw out some of the most odd, sometimes shocking moments of comedy from these talents, whether you expected any of them to deliver on them or not.

But at the center of all the mayhem occurring with this ensemble, is Amy Schumer and Bill Hader who not only have perfect chemistry, but really give some personality to these otherwise stock characters. Schumer’s boozy, free-wheeling character seems like she’s on the brink of self-destruction, but the movie makes it clear that it’s not necessarily a problem for her, nor is it a problem for us; Schumer’s just so charming and funny about everything, that it hardly registers at all that she’s slowly dying on the inside. Same goes with Bill Hader, who’s Dr. Conners feels like he could be the butt of every joke, yet, turns out to be the smartest character of them all. And even then, he’s got some problems worth solving.

Then again, don’t we all?

Consensus: As is the case with Apatow movies, Trainwreck is a tad overlong, but is still hilarious, well-acted, and insightful enough that it’s maybe his most polished work to date and proves that there’s plenty of room to grow for not just him, but Amy Schumer as well.

8 / 10

People in love - so happy and joyful. It makes me sick!

People in love – so happy and joyful. It makes me sick!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Glass Chin (2015)

Don’t be afraid to bag groceries for the rest of your life. There’s some pride in that.

Down-on-his-luck ex-boxer Bud Gordon, was commonly referred to as “the Saint”, but he’s been anything but. He’s got a girlfriend (Marin Ireland) that he’s trying to settle down, but can’t stop cheating on her; has a job as a boxing-trainer, but still can’t keep himself away from working as a guy who looks for loansharking victims; and wants to open back up a restaurant of his that was recently closed down, but in order to do so, he has to rely on whatever the odd, eccentric gangster J.J. (Billy Crudup) tells him what to do and when. Bud may not have a perfect life, but he’s just getting by and wants to continue to do so, even while his night job with his “co-worker”, Roberto (Yul Vasquez), gets more and more dangerous by the minutes. Eventually though, it all comes to a head and Bud’s left to wonder what his next move should be – either, risk everything in his life, or take another easy pay-out for himself and his possible new restaurant? Bud doesn’t know what to do, but he’s going to rely on his ability to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t know what that is just yet.

"Hey, we get Freud, too."

“Hey, we get Freud, too.”

Everything about Glass Chin sounds so very familiar and generic, but somehow, writer/director Noah Buschel finds interesting little ways of how to spin it just so that it doesn’t come off like that one bit. Instead of making this movie about how an ex-boxer found redemption both in-and-out of the ring, it’s more about how this ex-boxer copes with making enough money to support him and his girl, with whatever work comes his way. Though, once again, that may all sound conventional, it doesn’t come off that way; more or less, it seems like the kind of movie made about people we don’t too often see get the spotlight quite as much.

These types of characters here in Glass Chin are mostly all down-on-their-luck, not just Bud, but they have so much more to them that makes them worth watching. Sometimes. they enjoy a little movie, other times, a nice night on the town, getting plastered and reminiscing on the old times. These characters here may all have their quirks that set them apart differently from one another, but they’re all placed into a certain group that’s similar and it makes me appreciate these kinds of movie all the more.

Though Buschel had every opportunity to make this movie so much more than it appears to be, he fights the urge to do so and mostly, just keeps his attention set firmly on Bud and all that happens with him and his life. And by “firmly”, I do mean as-firm-as-a-glove; Buschel has a neat style here where he performs a lot of long takes, sometimes likes to go with a close-up on a character’s face who seems like they’re talking directly to you, and other times, make the colors so jumpy and distinctive, that the characters themselves fall into them.

However, no matter what tricks Buschel uses, there’s always somebody talking here. And it’s always intriguing to hear and watch as it moves the plot along.

Because even though a lot of these characters could be generally considered “the numbskulls of society”, they occasionally drop a smart line about life every now and then, just to remind you that they do an awful lot of thinking, too. They aren’t just placed into one area of society, forgotten about, and allow for their brains to fry – they’ve think, too, and you know what? They want to let others know.

Sometimes, what these characters say or talk about, can border on unique, or plain and simply odd, but it’s always interesting to listen to. Buschel has a knack here for writing dialogue just how these sorts of people would talk, even if they do sometimes go on rather long tangents that either, seem to go nowhere, or have a point, but take forever to get there. The one character that this is proven so perfectly with is Billy Crudup’s slimy and weird J.J.; though you know he’s definitely up to no good and is more than likely to screw Bud up in any way he sees fit, there’s something oddly charming about him to where you just want to believe that he may be as nice of a guy as he presents. You know he isn’t, but still, you hold-out some form of hope.

A little too intrigued by that light.

A little too intrigued by that light.

Same goes for each and every other character here.

Corey Stoll’s Bud seems like a dope that doesn’t always use his head when it comes to making any sort of decision, but you just hope that his mind is in the right place for this moment in his life and that he’s not going to screw it all up due to greed; Yul Vasquez’s Roberto may or may not be on Bud’s side, but you have a feeling he is looking out for the guy, even if it’s to save his own ass; Marin Ireland’s Ellen wants to stay by her man, but he continues to test her patience with all of the screwing around and disappointing that, even if it’s sad to think of her doing so, she might have to get going, pack up her stuff, an leave Bud once and for all; and Kelly Lynch’s Mae is, just, well, sexy. Can’t expect much else from her.

Each member of the cast is good here and give their characters certain level of dimensions that you definitely won’t see coming. Sure, some are more interesting than the other, but they all matter to the story and prove that if you have a good enough cast and characters to work with, then the plot will sort of fall as it pleases to do so. All of the other stuff is just unnecessary used for those who can’t handle themselves if something isn’t blowing up, or if a person’s getting shot.

Those are the kinds of people not made for Glass Chin and that’s why there’s something so special about it.

Consensus: With a talented cast at work, Glass Chin goes farther and beyond its basic-cable premise, and becomes an insightful, dramatic glimpse into the live’s of character’s we don’t always get glimpses of.

8 / 10

Imagine Creed, but without pushing-70 Sly.

Imagine Creed, but without pushing-70 Sly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire


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